In the coldest, darkest months of the year, many cities around the world look to the interplay of light, colour and shadow to illuminate their streets. Berlin has its Festival of Lights, Lyon its Fête des Lumières and Montréal its ‘Montréal en Lumière’, while Kobe puts on the Luminarie and Vivid Sydney lights up Australia’s largest city in the southern hemisphere winter. Speaking to a collective human desire to illuminate the darkness, these festivals see intricate installations of ‘light art’, a relatively new medium, pop up in public spaces throughout town, drawing residents away from their fireplaces and into the streets for a look at some impressive (and free) works of art.

Now in its 5th edition, the Amsterdam Light Festival is one of the youngest illumination festivals around, but it has quickly made a name for itself by bringing in innovative talent from around the world to light up the scenic historical centre of Amsterdam. What’s more, visitors can explore works of art the traditional way on foot, but also in the most ‘Amsterdam’ way possible: via canal boat.

This year, the festival will take place from 1 December 2016 through 22 January 2017, focusing on the interchange between light and architecture. Well-known Dutch architecture firms such as Benthem Crouwel Architects and UN Studio have created site-specific works, as have US-based Choi + Shine Architects and DP Architects of Singapore among many, many others.

Ahead of the festival, we preview some of the key upcoming installations:

Impression Light Waves, Benthem Crouwel Architects

Noctiluca scintillans, or ‘sea sparkle’, is a phenomenon caused by bioluminescent organisms that illuminate when stirred up in the ocean; during summer, they give the Dutch coastline an intriguing blue-ish glow. The Light Waves installation mimics the behaviour of these ethereal organisms, using the wind to make the artwork sparkle and shine, and creating a fascinating lighting effect in the city. Thousands of LEDs capture the invisible wind and show the airflow as waves.

Eye_Beacon, UNStudio

In the deep sea, some creatures produce light in the darkness to communicate with others – a behavior that Eye_Beacon imitates while communicating with bystanders through luminous patterns and changing colours. The artwork consists of two connected cubes with a skin of stretchable fabric. Not just a light object, Eye_Beacon also serves as the central information point of the festival.

Rhizome House, DP Architects

DP Architects – designers of the biggest mall in the world, The Dubai Mall – created The Rhizome House specially for the Amsterdam Light Festival. A life-size representation of a rhizome, visitors have to find their way through the teeming roots. As soon as someone enters the object, the light reacts, first with a cool blue colour, then with bright pink. The space is designed to evoke feelings of both familiarity and alienation, inspiring visitors to ponder the ideas of atmosphere and comfort.

The Lace, Choi + Shine Architects

Choi + Shine Architects – known for The Land of Giants, a project transforming ordinary utility poles into giant statues – give a contemporary twist to traditional lace from North Holland in their work The Lace, made to represent a bonnet whose threads are glowing light. A suspended 3D work 10 metres wide, it symbolises the cultural richness of Amsterdam as well as the interconnectedness of Amsterdammers and the intertwined nature of the town itself, with its winding roads, canals and squares. The Lace will hang over the Herengracht (Patricians’ Canal).

The canal boat ‘Watercolours’ route will be available from 1 December to 22 January, while ‘Illuminade’, the walking route, will be open from 15 December through 8 January.

Article by Irene de Vette

[Photos opener and teaser article: Amsterdam Light Festival 2015, Frank Karssing]

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