Bright Lights Big City
What’s on the menu for your trip to Amsterdam? A romantic stroll along the canals, a visit to the city’s coolest wine bars, and perhaps a cultural fix or two? Well, move over museums: because there’s a new Amsterdam highlight in town — Amsterdam Light Festival. Whether you’re an Amsterdam veteran on your hundredth trip to the city or a first-timer, this must-see event will show you a version of Amsterdam you’ve never seen before.
When you think of Amsterdam and “lights”, your first association may be the famous red light district. But the Amsterdam Light Festival offers a whole new color scheme: a cozy atmosphere brought about by twinkling lights best experienced by night on a canal boat tour.
How it began
Atmospheric lights have always been part of the Amsterdam DNA and the historical charm of the city’s canals. But it wasn’t until 2012 with the birth of the foundation of the Amsterdam Light Festival by Felix Guttmann, Rogier van der Heide and Raymond Borsboom that light art and light installations became an annual tradition. Since its inception, the festival has enjoyed yearly editions with changing displays, showcasing amazing local and international artists, and drawing large crowds from around the world. The real magic of the ALF is that all light artworks are created especially for the festival, with some even staying in the city permanently!
While the amazing artworks can be admired by foot or by bike, Art Fix recommends you enjoy the lights by boat for the optimal viewing experience. Special salon boats can be chartered for groups, with many offering a dinner cruise. Why simply wine and dine when you can wine, dine, and SHINE?
So mark your calendars, Fixers! The magnificent Amsterdam light Festival usually stretches over several weeks in December and January, but be sure to plan your trip in advance as the experience is in high demand by locals and visitors alike.
Curious about what’s been on the menu at previous ALFs? We’ve curated a list of our top ten favorite Light Festival installations from the past editions of the festival to give you a taste of what’s waiting for you.
I.26 Amsterdam by Janet Echelman
(2012 – 2013)
By using fishing nets, Echelman created this fantastic work that floats in the wind above the Amstel river, almost like a protective blanket over the water. A uniquely integrated lighting program gives rise to a voluptuous wave of changing colors reflected beautifully on the dark water below.
Curious to find out more about the artists? Listen to her 10 minute Ted Talk.
Arco by Teresa Mar
(2016 – 2017)
Imagine sailing through a row of spouting fountains, surrounded by a cathedral sky of water! Well, Teresa Mar brought this to reality in 2016. This water light installation was an arc-shaped veil with projections of various scenes of daily life in the Dutch capital, making it expansive yet local at the same time.
Butterfly Effect by Masamichi Shimada
(2019 – 2020)
In 2019, Japanese light artist Masamichi Shimada created these beautiful glowing blue butterflies that fluttered across the Amsterdam water. Despite already being a feast for the eyes, the story behind this work and its title are mesmerizing. The “butterfly effect” refers to a small change that causes bigger changes to happen, meaning one small incident can have a big impact on the future. The term butterfly effect comes from an analogy where a butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo and a tornado occurs in Tennessee.
Ghost Ship by VisualSkin
(2014 – 2015)
Since 2014, this luminous Ghost Ship has set sail around Europe, with a pit stop in Amsterdam in 2015. It’s the meeting of our world’s most powerful elements: water and light, that came together to create this installation. Created by the very talented Romanian architecture collective, VisualSkin, this magnificent 3D ship is actually a projection of a screen of water.
Light A Wish by Ogee Group
(2018 – 2019)
At Art Fix we have an affinity for dandelions (watch Episode 10 to learn more about Studio Drift’s amazing installations made of dandelions). That’s why this incredible work from 2018 by Ogee Group immediately stole our art hearts. Created by Israeli artist Merav Eitan and German artist Gaston Zahr who are trained architects, this swirling dandelion installation offered viewers a moment of reminisce. Everyone knows what it’s like to blow the fluff from a dandelion into the air in anticipation of your wish coming true. OGE Group’s ‘Light a Wish’ visualizes the moment the seeds disperse in the air, taking your wish into the cold Dutch winter air. And we’re not the only ones to love this work: this installation won the Public Choice award!
Nacht Tekening by Krijn de Koning
(2019 – 2020)
This “night drawing” plays with the lines of the famous wooden Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) as it lights up the city’s iconic narrow draw bridge over the river Amstel. The title translates to “Night Drawing”, meaning the famous bridge is able to be seen at all hours of the winter day.
Neighbourhood by Sergey Kim
(2019 – 2020)
Hate the look of laundry lines? Think again: NY-based Sergey Kim presented a fantastic installation of an illuminated washing line in 2019. Upon taking a closer look, viewers will notice that the clothes hail from people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, symbolizing the mixture of inhabitants in this multicultural city. An interesting fact about Kim is that he recently founded Velooq, the first luminous tires for bicycles. It is very fitting that his works get displayed in Amsterdam, then!
Souvenir by Erik Kessels
(2016 – 2017)
Did you know souvenir means memory in French? This is why we often shop for “souvenirs” hoping its physicality will take us back to a certain time or place in the future. This work was created by the co-founder of one of the most famous creative agencies in The Netherlands, Kessels Kramer. Next to being a creative director, Erik Kessels is also an artist and a curator. We love how this work forces us to pull away from the physical and material and focus on the moment we’re living in, soon to be a memory.
Two Lamps by Jeroen Henneman
(2018 – 2019)
Another celebrated Dutch artist, Jeroen Henneman, created these two gigantic lamps for their location on the “Golden Bend”, a place infamous for the homes of the wealthy in Amsterdam. Henneman describes his sculptures as “standing drawings”, a collaboration (symbiosis) between drawing and object. Scattered between the regular street lamps, these two look-alike desk lamps are really magnificent examples of art standing out while also integrating into the physical space.
Thin Line by Ai Weiwei
(2017 – 2018)
Art Fix fave and Chinese activist Ai Weiwei created a 6.5 kilometer long line of red laser light as an installation in 2017. The red line connected all the 35 light art works and is said to mark a boundary. What the boundary indicates, however, is unclear. Ai left it up to the view to determine whether they were national borders, language boundaries, or personal boundaries.