On Thursday, November 29 the seventh edition of Amsterdam Light Festival officially opened. Until January 20, visitors can admire 30 luminous artworks especially created for Amsterdam by artists from all over the world. The artworks will be lit up every day between 5 pm and 11 pm.
The festival, hosted in Amsterdam’s historical city center, can be experienced by boat, bike or on foot. The theme of this year is The Medium is the Message, a statement coined by Canadian communication scientist Marshall McLuhan. The phrase refers to the role of light as a tool for conveying a message. In a light artwork, light is the medium chosen to communicate artwork’s meaning and, at the same time, the message of the artwork itself.
Before opening the festival to the public, a press grand opening took place on November 28 at Beurs van Berlage, a former stock exchange now hosting conferences and events. Frédérique Ter Brugge, the managing director of the festival, and Lennart Booij, the artistic director, presented the festival, introducing the innovations of this year. For the first time, audio information about the artworks is available on visitors’ devices, which makes it easier to find a specific artwork.
Ter Brugge and Booij also highlighted the importance of light artworks in conveying an educational message. “Many people think that art is [for the elitists and] not for them [general public],” said Booij. “By putting artworks in a public space, we try to establish a connection with them.” With the same educational purpose, Amsterdam Light Festival collaborated with the Breitner Academie, a Dutch art academy, whose young students created the artwork Translucent.
The edition of this year knows several other collaborations. Dutch visual artist Jeroen Henneman designed the limited edition artwork One Lamp, of which only 65 unique copies are available. With the proceeds of this sale, the production of Two Lamps, the large installation that Henneman designed for the exhibition of the festival, was made possible. Art historian Koen Kleijn collected ten city stories, in which he looked for the connections between Amsterdam and the theme The Medium is the Message. The cultural agency Artifex presented De Lichtcode, combining a boat trip along the light artworks with a theatre play. The Van Gogh Museum supported the artwork Starry Night, reproducing Van Gogh’s famous painting with the same name. Here, Serbian artists Ivana Jeli? and Pavle Petrovi? used a painting made of artificial light to highlight the problem of light pollution in the metropolis.
This edition has a special focus on the connection between art and science. The German artist Stefan Reiss combined art and physics in his artwork O.T. 976. Reiss was inspired by the famous string theory, stating that everything in the universe is connected by small vibrating strings. The artwork is composed of three planes, each consisting of dozens of cables, which function as a screen for a continuously changing composition. The Hungarian Kóros Design designed the inflatable installation A.N.N. (Artificial Neural Network), reproducing neural activity in the brain.
Based on the estimations from previous editions, around 900,000 people are expected this year. “However, it is only a rough estimate,” explained Clarisse Stulp, 42, working in the Marketing and Communication Department of the Amsterdam Light Festival. “We do not know the exact numbers, since many people see the exhibition from land.” She highlighted that the festival is not interested in attracting more visitors. “There are already enough visitors in the city center. We also want all visitors to be enlightened, which is not possible if the exhibition is too crowded.”
Among the 600 artists applying every year, a first selection narrows applications to 120. Then, a jury selects the final 30. “Selection criteria include both how different artworks work together in a single exhibition, and how they interact with city space,” explained Stulp.
Every year, the Amsterdam Light Festival is made possible thanks to the contribution of public and private investors. “The Municipality pays a small portion of it,” said Stulp. “Then, a larger part is funded by grants financing art and culture. Funding also comes from public and private partnerships, like the one established with Van Gogh Museum.”
After the press grand opening on November 28, Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema opened it to the public on Thursday, November 29.