The 12th Amsterdam LIGHT FESTIVAL on the city’s canals

Illuminations are as much a part of Christmas as Santa Claus and while most towns are happy to have their streets and trees decorated with lights and tinsel, Amsterdam has taken the idea to a whole new level.

This is the twelfth year that the Amsterdam Light Festival has invited artists from all over the world to show light-based installations in and around the city’s canals. The theme of this year’s glowing extravaganza is Loading… Revealing Art, AI and Tech. The Festival asked artists to think about the effect of technology and artificial intelligence on our everyday lives. How we communicate, connect and create is all influenced by technology and AI. What is the impact of this on our humanity? How is society changing due to this digital evolution? And where are the boundaries?

There are more than twenty installations ranging from the huge and spectacular like the cascading lights the projected onto the Het Scheepvaartmuseum (the National Maritime Museum) to small ones like the figure trapped inside an, albeit giant, iPhone.

Water, and its reaction to the lights, plays a crucial part in the Festival with reflections constituting an intrinsic part of many of the installations. There is one, entitled Water, which consists of multi-coloured strip-lights only three centimetres deep mounted under a bridge, where all you can see is the reflections unless you are in a boat passing under it. We saw the installations from a boat but all of them can be seen just as well, and probably better, on foot. They are spread out around the canal network but there is a concentration on the Amstel, especially between the station and Het Scheepvaartmuseum.

Some of the pieces are interactive, reacting to input from the viewer. There is one, set up on the footbridge that leads to the Nemo science museum that projects a giant avatar on the sloping side of the building, the movements of which are controlled by any spectator who cares to do it.

While most of the artworks are single pieces of different sizes and complexities there is one installation can be seen all around the circuit. The illuminated 12 Artificial Figures are slightly larger than life and can be seen in or near the water, either alone or in small groups. The identical all-white translucent male figures wearing suits, stand with their heads bowed contemplating the water below them and appear in the most unlikely places, but are always easy to spot as they glow in the dark.

Now, while the Amsterdam Light Festival is not at all about Christmas and the artists’ brief was to create something that related to technology and, more specifically, to Artificial Intelligence, the timing of the show in December/January is not by accident and all the brightly coloured installations around the city certainly feel quite festive. Obviously the installations need to be seen at night but some of them work quite well in daylight too.   Michael Hasted  1st  December 2023

Photo by and © Janus van den Eijnden

The Amsterdam Festival of Light can be seen around the city until the 21st January.