Amsterdam Light Festival 2017

Written by Craig Berry
Designer & Writer | Designer
Originally shared 26/01/2017

Through Craig’s eyes…

Every year the light festival takes place in Amsterdam, 2016 is the fifth edition but myself and Tijs’ first times seeing it properly. I wanted to take the time to go and see what the big deal was about the Festival as everyone said it’s been great over previous years. I asked another VBAT intern — Tijs Kramer — to join me on the trip and I wanted to write something collaboratively with him — to get my English perspective and Tijs’ Dutch perspective.

Back in November of 2016 I visited the Eindhoven Light Festival — Glow, and in the blog post about that I explained how it was on a similar scale and level to light festivals I’ve been to in the UK with lots of projection mapping and things. What was different there though was that these other festivals last either 1 night or 1 week, Amsterdam Light Festival lasts nearly 2 months which allows for a lot of people to check it out and be inspired.

Due to the cold and wet weather and busy times at VBAT, we were only able to visit the festival in the last few weeks and only the Water Colors route, which is the route that follows predominantly the Herengracht Canal ring where light pieces, sculptures and installations sit on the water, bridges, canal walls or parallel streets.

My experience of the festival is that it was pretty spectacular, most of the pieces were bold and impressive, some very large in scale and others having high production values.

Despite it being incredibly cold as we walked and cycled around we were in awe of some of the work. I want to speak about 3 of the Water Colors pieces and my reasons why. These aren’t necessarily my favourite 3 but 3 that I felt the strongest about.

Firstly, one of the most well-known pieces I think and also the ‘prettiest’ — ‘Bridge of the Rainbow’ by Gilbert Moity.

The work is exactly that — a rainbow over a bridge, but its place beautifully in the middle of two other connecting bridges creating a gate like entrance. The bright colours reflecting beautifully in the water, each colours merging into the next.

The rainbow itself in today’s society is very much associated with the LGBT community and being in Amsterdam — a city which prides itself in being open-minded and a supporter of the community.

The bridge perfectly reflects this cities mindset, that’s why it’s much more to me than just pretty colours.

Secondly, ‘Bunch of Tulips’ by Peter Koros is a piece that fits perfectly in the city and the country of the Netherlands for the obvious reason that the tulip is pretty much the stereotypical image of the country. These tulips by Koros though are not your normal hand-held bunch of tulips but a much bigger, brighter and inflatable version.

The Hungarian artist is hailed as an expert in inflatable installations and this piece is certainly a masterpiece in the field.

The tulips themselves are bright and also use bright colours — each tulip flower changing colour from red to blue to yellow to green and so on. The work is said to represent our culture of mass consumption and this unique twist on this the Dutch tulip symbol is that of a kitsch nature.

Finally, from me, ‘Blueprint’ by Reier Pos. Situated a bit further out and projected onto the Dutch Maritime Museum, Pos’ piece is a futuristic artwork that reflects the history and heritage of the city as well as its present day modernity.

By choosing to have the work projected onto the Dutch Maritime Museum he is acknowledging the building and its importance.

Built in 1656 during the Golden Age whilst Amsterdam was the biggest port in the world. The green laser image projected onto the building highlights this by drawing the original blueprints onto the face of it. Repetitively showing this grid-like shape as well as ending on a more fluid and loose wave-like blue spectrum. The repetition of the work is said to reflect on the idea of both ephemeral time (short lasting tie) and perpetual time (never ending time). Again the reflection and glow of this building and piece of work was impressive to see, the water surrounding the building shines in a vibrant blue.

Through Tijs’ eyes…

Not only is the light festival a great outdoor exposition with impressive light sculptures, they all tell the story of Amsterdam, every piece in its own way, from a different perspective. The sculptures are connected by a theme.

The theme of globalisation and how Amsterdam sticks to its traditions while progressing at the same tame and never seizes to amaze its inhabitants and tourists.

It’s always hard to pick favourites, especially when every piece is visually stunning and supported by a meaningful message by the artist. But here’s my top three.

Firstly, Choi + Shine Architects — ‘The Lace’. A huge hand woven sheet with a beautiful pattern coming to life at night when spots shine on the fluorescent white threads. Existing of 18 panels which were all handwoven by a team of 9 skilful men using different techniques from different cultures. At first glance it looks like a typical Dutch decorative place mat.

It hints to our culture, but at the same time the craftsmanship and the woven pattern symbolise the diversity of the city, its culture, infrastructure, the past and the future.

By shedding light on this 650 kg sheet of threads, it conveys the story of a city that never sleeps and is always in motion.

Secondly, Viktor Vicsek’s ‘NEXUS’. In the modern day and age the traditional sculpture on a pedestal no longer suffices to spectators expectations. We like it when art merges and collides with historical architecture, keeping the original structures intact whilst giving it an extra layer. A piece that plays and merges with its surroundings tells the story of the city better, because its roots literally rise from the city. Amsterdam is one of the most multicultural cities in the world.

Every tube of light symbolise a native or a newcomer, their connection form the fundament of this multicultural identity.

Through flowing colour, the result of all the tubes combined is greater and more impactful than the sum of its components. Synergy in it’s true form.

Finally, Teresa Mar — ‘ARCO’. Visually stunning, omni-directional and an experience that feels like a two-way street. Where other sculptures are static and observed from the outside, this piece of art is best observed from the inside. The spectator is surrounded by atomised water fountains that are projected on. The projections are collages of footage out of the daily life, all linked to Amsterdam. Edited in such way that you’re left with abstract projections that the whole story without explaining becomes the narrative.

From my perspective this is Amsterdam in a matter of seconds. Whether you’re cycling from your work to home or just for the sake of sightseeing, the city around you is filled with moments. Moments of love, happiness, sobriety but also pain, struggles and frustrations.

We pass by these moments and our brain doesn’t have the focus, nor the desire to process all. In the end you’re left with a perception rather than a memory. We are all the protagonist in our own lives, but merely passersby in any others. The way this principle is reflected in this piece of art is just beautiful to me.

As first time visitors to the festival it was a great experience, what we liked most was how each piece was not only beautiful to look at but they all have interesting stories which looked to the historical past, modern society or the unforeseeable future.

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Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.