by Shraddha NairNov 26, 2021
With the diversification of practices pertaining to art and design, events that showcase specific modes and mediums of creative expression have only expanded. One can now find biennales and design weeks themed on the usage of clay, glass or metal as a material, or chance upon art events and exhibitions where ASMR is explored with an array of dynamic installations. While some may argue that categorisation such as these necessitates the exercise of adding labels, to creations that simply want to exist sans docketing, initiatives celebrating specific subjects also inspire unique ideas and thoughts within a limited scope. One such event that has over the years, platformed the distinct practice of light art is the Amsterdam Light Festival. Now in its 11th edition, the art and design event—open from December 1, 2022, to January 22, 2023—aims to tell stories and connect people with the medium of light and its varied artistic configurations.
Against the picturesque backdrop of historic structures scattered across Amsterdam and the canals flowing through the city, the light art festival concocts a unique experience for residents and visitors alike. Delineating the idea that birthed this festival in 2012, the organisers of the event shared, “During the dark winter months, Amsterdam was in need of some illumination. A few entrepreneurs from the canal cruise sector came up with the 'Christmas Canal Parade,' held for the first time in 2009. After that, it was decided that the focus should shift to an arts festival, during a time when light art was an upcoming art discipline. In 2012, the first edition of the Amsterdam Light Festival was held.”
The theme of the current iteration of the festival is Imagine Beyond. It urges participants to imagine creations that may fit a transient world. The past few years have seen a rapid change in the way we live; just as we begin to make sense of new situations and conditions influencing our lives, new discoveries and circumstances manifest their presence, hence propelling the cycle of acceptance into motion again. Against this context, the presenters are encouraged to come up with atypical and esoteric ideas that betray conventional thought, and pave the way for a limitless future—directing focus beyond the horizon and onto the unknown.
“This year's light artworks appeal to the imagination and let visitors slow down, take a good look and think about what they see, with or without taking the artworks' context into consideration. The theme of the 11th edition is Imagine Beyond with which we take visitors to the world of imagination. That the world around us is only temporary and can be different in an instance is something we have all experienced over the past couple of years. Right at that moment—when everything around you seems to be changing—we need the power of our imagination. To exceed the here and now, to envision the day of tomorrow however we like, and to dream along,” the organising body behind the festival asserts.
The 20 light installations on display in and along the canals of Amsterdam Centre-East are artworks created by artists and collectives hailing from the Netherlands, and beyond. They include—Gabriel Lester, Lambert Kamps, Peter Vink, Studio Toer, Vendel & De Wolf, VOUW, Wilhelmusvlug, Tamar Frank, Theo Botschuijver, Thiadmer van Galen, Jasper van Roden & Olav van Enkhuijzen, and Priya Saktoe, Yoeki de Ruyter & Sorella Loman from the Netherlands, Edwin Baruch and Jason Krugman from the United States of America, Group B and UxU Studio from Taiwan, Massimo Uberti from Italy, OBBA from Korea, Olivier Ratsi from France, and Studio Vertigo from the United Kingdom. They can be viewed on foot or by boat.
While Dutch artist Peter Vink’s Bridge 242, defined by straight, clean lines, encourages one to imagine beyond what is visible, Italian artist Massimo Uberti’s luminescent ladder, stationed on the highest building on Roeterseiland Campus raises the question of what lies beyond the ladder. On the other hand, Lambert Kamps’s artwork comprises 104 pneumatically powered tube lights, forming eight-letter words that hint towards a dynamic future. Another installation that presents an example of a futuristic artwork is Peruvian-American architect and artist Edwin Baruch’s Light Gate, which bears semblance to the likes of the Arc de Triomphe and Gateway of India. With references to grand doorways commonly built in the past, the structure metaphorises an entry into the world of imagination, while also hinting towards a future where architecture can be less hefty, in weight and size.
Rays of Light by Tamar Frank is built using hundreds of fluorescent wires, strung from the top of the Montelbaanstoren tower on the bank of the Oudeschans canal. The result is a subtle wave of light that projects the idea that the environment is under surveillance. Gabriel Lester’s Hole in the Sky is shaped like a portal, or even perhaps a UFO. Its ambiguous shape can be interpreted in multiple ways by different people. Another installation, Flying with the Light by Taiwanese collective Group Bricoleur, is a 36-metre-long line of wings, fitted collinearly to appear like a shaded aisle. The wings beckon viewers to fly into a new world, a new future. An equally surreal environment is created by South Korea-based design studio OBBA, with Light Wave, which comprises several iridescent paddles hanging mid-air, moving from side to side.
A few more artworks include To Merge by Priya Saktoe, Yoeki de Ruyter en Sorella Loman, students of the Breitner Academy, Amsterdam University of the Arts, Bloomlight by Mingus Vogel & Justus Bruns of VOUW, Inversion Waterfall by UxU Studio, and Wilhelmusvlug’s Hourglass, among others.
On January 16, 2023, a special event, designed in collaboration with Utrecht-based Stichting Gouden Dagen, will witness children from the festival’s education project play host to hundreds of elderly citizens. During the small tour, 1200 children from different parts of the city will walk the Bridge of 1000 Dreams—built by Studio Toer—along with the elderly and present the idea and mechanism behind each of the 20 light installations at the festival.
In keeping with the need of the hour, the annual art exhibition strives to leave behind a minimal footprint. It signed the ILO Sustainable Manifesto, drafted by International Light Festivals Organisation (ILO), in 2022, in order to pave the way for sustainable showcases in the future. The 11th iteration of the light festival is predicted to consume a total of 15,000 kWh of energy during its 53-day tenure. For comparison, this energy expenditure equals the energy consumed while watching television for one night. The festival aims to go 100 percent electric by 2025. Additionally, all the artworks displayed at the festival will either retain a permanent spot in the city or will be recycled after the event.