Amsterdam is a city of contrasts. Historic, narrow 17th-century buildings and canals coexist with liberal drug, prostitution and same-sex marriage laws.
But no contrast is so clearly embraced as the one that continues to permeate the Netherlands’ approach to artistic expression.
Amsterdam Light Festival
The Amsterdam Light Festival turns three this year, attracting thousands of international artists and spectators, even in the dead of winter. The festival’s emphasis on light in contrast with dark breathes new life into the Netherlands’ rich artistic history.
The United Nations has declared 2015 the International Year of Light, so there is no better time to visit Amsterdam’s artistic homage to this powerful muse.
These striking photos tell the passionate story of Amsterdam’s love affair with light:
As the sun goes down over a mossy heath in Blaricum outside Amsterdam, peaks and valleys in the gently undulating ground create the highlights and shadows that have possessed Dutch landscape painters over the centuries. Credit: Nicola Brown
40 street artists from around the world designed the faces of this giant six-metre-high “House of Cards”. Seemingly fragile from a distance, up close this structure of 125 light boxes stands firm. Echoing Amsterdam’s own leaning architecture, the house of cards presents a distinctive view from every angle. Credit: Nicola Brown
In “my light is your light…” a group of stooped, gently-glowing neon figures stand, exhausted, as if they’ve just arrived – refugees – carrying their heavy baggage. Artist Alaa Minawi, himself a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon, nevertheless builds hope into the picture with the youngest figure, head up, leading the group on. In tolerant and welcoming Amsterdam, they are just steps from finding a new home. Credit: Nicola Brown
Light and water unite as this serpentine spinning wire mimics both the gentle ebb and flow of the canals as well as the wave form of light. In motion just inches above the water, “LIGHT(onda)FLOW” (onda means waves in Spanish) evokes ideas of energy and rhythm in a state of timelessness. Credit: Nicola Brown
This Rembrandt, commonly called The Night Watch, is one of the most famous paintings in the world. It hangs majestically in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The powerful use of chiaroscuro (contrast between light and dark) unites Dutch art across the centuries. Credit: Nicola Brown
One of the best ways to experience the Amsterdam Light Festival is on a canal boat tour. A special route called Water Colors takes you around, through and under many of the art installations, including this colour-changing “Lightbridge”. This immersive water-level perspective makes you feel like a participant in the dynamic life of the Amsterdam Light Festival’s art. Credit: Nicola Brown
“On the Wings of Freedom” is an interactive flutter of colour-changing butterflies that appear in mid-flight. The central theme of transformation in this work speaks to the beauty and positivity of change. The installation’s spattering of colourful light aptly reflects that of Amsterdam’s myriad glowing windows and their dappled reflections in the canals. Credit: Nicola Brown
Mangrove forest? Cell membrane? Advanced life form? “Arborescence” is an intriguing and inviting way to contemplate light’s pervasiveness from art to science to nature and beyond. Light is a defining element for humanity; something that connects and unites us all. Credit: Nicola Brown
300 bicycle rims glow like orange slices in “Re(bi)cycle” by Russian-born architect Vasili Popov. But there’s a catch – the dome won’t glow without the work of its spectators, who must power this impressive structure via a water pump. Amsterdam is known for its throngs of cyclists – for many they form the heart and soul of the city. Credit: Nicola Brown
Wandering through this enchanting “Alley of Light” feels transformative. 2000 LED bulbs hang as if magically suspended in mid air, slowly changing in intensity. The four metre by 12 metre forest of shimmering lights evokes peacefulness, hope and the power of creative imagination. Credit: Nicola Brown
Amsterdam Light Festival
Dates: Nov 27, 2014 – Jan 18, 2015
Location: Various locations across Amsterdam
Ways to experience the festival: On foot (free), or by canal boat ($)
Insider tip: Plan to visit after the sun goes down, wrap up warmly, and treat yourself to some gluhwein (mulled wine) after your tour
On this trip: Tickets to the gallery supplied by the Rijksmuseum.
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Nicola is an award-winning writer, editor and communication consultant in Toronto. She has travelled to 26 countries and still can’t decide whether Canada or the UK is home. Nicola revels in the visceral, experiential side of travel, and will passionately argue for its psychological paybacks, especially after a few glasses of wine. She lives for opportunities to illuminate the life-changing power of travel for as many people as possible.