Amsterdam Light Festival 2023:

The Role of AI in Art and Cities

By Tamara Kaňuchová | Culture | January 12, 2024

Cover Illustration: Artwork “Absorbed by Light” by Gali May Lucas at Amsterdam Light Festival 2023. Janus van den Eijnden / Amsterdam Light Festival

Culture Reporter Tamara Kaňuchová explores this year’s edition of the Amsterdam Light Festival, which focused on the impact of AI and technology.

For Amsterdammers, the winter season kicks off with the Amsterdam Light Festival, an annual event that takes place from the end of November until almost the end of January. This year marks the 12th edition of the festival, where artworks take over the city’s canals under the theme “LOADING…”

Artwork "Gouden Bocht" by Peter Vink at Amsterdam Light Festival 2023. Janus van den Eijnden / Amsterdam Light Festival

You might think this sounds quite cryptic, but the theme is actually very relevant for artists all over the world, focusing on the impact of AI and technology on creativity and our everyday lives. It analyzes the ways AI affects our communication, while engaging with our surroundings and understandings of the present and the future. 

There are multiple ways to experience the artworks, from purchasing a map with the festival route and walking or biking along it, to cruising through it on one of the partnered boat companies. I was able to do the latter and enjoy the festival from a boat with a cup of warm gluhwein and a guide from Starboard Boats. The guided tour highlighted and shared fun facts about the artworks and also invited us to start conversations about what we were seeing. My personal favorites were Atlas next to Hortus (a sculpture of a man holding a village on his shoulders, made in a similar way to how planes are crafted) and Le Saut on Herengracht (inspired by Yves Klein, depicting a figure jumping into a parallel universe or possibly the cold canal water).

Artwork "Artificial Humans" by Atelier Haute Cuisine at Amsterdam Light Festival 2023. Janus van den Eijnden / Amsterdam Light Festival

My favorite thing about the Amsterdam canals are the reflections of light on the water when it gets dark (I get to see that a lot during the Dutch winter). Seeing the artwork play with the water surface is a nice touch for art enthusiasts, festival first-timers and returning fans of the festival. 

Some of the artworks are also interactive: they react as you cruise by, or when you touch them from the land. Multiple sub-themes of Edition 12 make you think about the relationship we have with technology as individuals, but also what it means to be an artist in this age. If you are interested in this aspect, I recommend checking out some of the artist interviews on the ALF website


The sub-themes of ALF ponder reality and humanity as key concepts in interpreting the future of AI and technology. How will we distinguish between what is real and what is fake in the future? What ethical challenges does AI pose in the workplace, art creation and relationships? Are we moving towards dystopia or utopia? This is what I find intriguing about art and listening to stories about the artworks. What may appear inconspicuous at first glance holds deeper meaning beneath (or in this case, above) the surface. 

Artwork "Le Saut" by Arnaud Laffond at Amsterdam Light Festival 2023. Janus van den Eijnden / Amsterdam Light Festival
Artwork "Is it really you" by Studio MAST at Amsterdam Light Festival 2023. Janus van den Eijnden / Amsterdam Light Festival

If you want to read more about this topic, I highly recommend the book AI Aesthetics by Lev Manovich. The writer talks about the ways AI is already implemented in culture and advises how to navigate a world in which the creation of movie trailers, books, or even paintings can become automated.

Lastly, ALF is not the only time you get to see light art in Amsterdam, as some art pieces are part of a permanent collection in public spaces all around the city. You might have already seen some of these small (or bigger) light art pieces when walking around the city, but in case you haven’t, here is a handy map to see which ones are near you!

Tamara Kaňuchová is a university student in Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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