Winter has descended upon Amsterdam, along with an unhealthy amount of rain and a severe lack of vitamin D – and yet the city is brighter than ever.
The Amsterdam Light Festival (ALF) is back for its eighth year and there are new artists, new installations, and a new theme. There’s more to this wintertime spectacular than a few flashing bulbs, though. Every year Amsterdam becomes the playground for international artists showing off conceptual work that would feel just as at home in any modern art museum as it would in Amsterdam’s famous canal ring.
Make the most of the lights with a canal cruise
If you arrive in Amsterdam during winter, a canal cruise might be at the bottom of your to-do list, but it’s time to reconsider. The best place to see the lights is from the water, and you’re going to stay a whole lot warmer on a boat than you will on foot.
Most of Amsterdam’s major canal cruise companies are offering deals, but we’ve listed some of our favorites below.
Choose your starting point
With heating onboard as well as glühwein (mulled wine) – not to mention a roof to keep the rain out – you’ll stay toasty and enjoy a unique view of the lights.
Whether you’re departing from Centraal Station (perfect for those visiting the city to see ALF) or nightlife hotspot Leidseplein, you’ll never have to wait more than a few minutes to hop on a dedicated cruise ship, most boats run Monday to Friday between 17:00 and 22:00.
If you’re looking for the best photo possible and are willing to brace the chill, this cruise is right up your canal. Take shots of dreamlike sculptures with nothing to obstruct your lens.
If you’re looking for something cozy, go for the Historic Boat experience and enjoy a perfectly intimate experience with glühwein on board the Avanti or the Delphine. This intimate cruising experience lets you relax inside the cabin while the lights dance on the water.
Turn the light on Disrupt!
This year’s theme is all about disruption, and twenty artists and collectives from around the globe have each interpreted what that means to them. Creators have submitted concepts from across the world – from the Netherlands to Singapore and Taiwan – and found ways to incorporate Amsterdam’s historic canals and storied history into their work.
But, what exactly does Disrupt! mean? The art on display itself can be a disruption, in fact, a number of pieces stationed throughout the city throw new light (literally) onto old buildings to highlight their history. With reminders of the wars, riots, occupation, and redevelopments that have taken place in Amsterdam, a new perspective is forced on you.
On a social level, disruption can change mankind for the better. From the suffragettes to the civil rights movement, the 20th century has fundamentally altered the course of human history and while – at the time – change is jarring, it can lead to an improved world.
One theme this year’s artists continued to return to was climate change and how disruption can make or break our society. Expect to see the canals utilised in displays that don’t shy away from our rising sea levels – Surface Tension by Tom Biddulph & Barbara Ryan being the prime example. Other concepts flip the coin and look at how we’ve managed nature’s natural disruptions, from ice and storms to plants and animals.
Meet the Amsterdam Light Festival artists
The 20 artists participating in the 2019/2020 Amsterdam Light Festival have each put their own spin on Disrupt!, but their credentials go beyond one of Holland’s main events. The list is made up of artists architects and even a film director.
The growing movement of light art is perhaps summed up best by one of the artists, Lucy McDonnell:
Installations by international artists
- Remind Euljiro Freedom by EON SLD (Be Warm) is a lighting design studio from Seoul. EON SLD’s lead designer, Mee Jeong, is the main curator for Seoul light festival Euljiro Lightway.
- Big Bang by UxU Studio is a Taiwanese collective – Kuan-Hung Chen and Ying-Chu Chen – that consists of architects, designers and artists, last year they featured their work Desire .
- Feel Like the Kardashians by Singaporean artist Laila Azra. Azra usually works on a canvas, but has begun branching out 3D installations, which she’ll be showcasing at this year’s ALF.
- All the Light You See by American interdisciplinary artist Alicia Eggert from Texas is back again after its success last year.
- Butterfly Effect by Japanese light artist, Masamichi Shimada, who creates light installations with materials like wood, metal, paper, and plastic.
- Neighborhood by Sergey Kim, a New York artist who also makes luminous bike tyres.
- Nothing Holding Us by Seattle-based Ben Zamora, who creates light installations and sculptures for museums, theatre and festivals.
Installations by European artists
- Hiding in the Wolf’s Lair by Republic of Amsterdam Radio and Nomad Tinker House, a Dutch storytelling combines a love of history with creative design for their first ALF light artwork.
- Nacht Tekening by Krijn de Koning, Dutch artist.
- Icebreaker by Wilhelmusvlug, Amsterdam based designer and multimedia artist who has particpated in the ALF three times before.
- Order/Disorder by LAMBERT KAMPS Touch of Time featured in last year’s ALF and he’s back with a new design this year.
- Nobody by Gabriel Lester, a Dutch artist who crosses the lines of every form of art be it prose, sculpture or film.
- Ad. Empty Domination by Dutch collective Maria Watjer, Wies Brand and Jasmijn Pielkenrood study at the Breitner Academy in Amsterdam.
- Atlantis by Utskottet, a collective from Sweden, made up of Olof Wiese and Edvin Buregren.
- The Cracks by Polish/French architect, artist and polyglot Karolina Katarzyna Howorko.
- End Over End by Studio Vertigo made up of UK light artists, Lucy McDonnell and Stephen Newby are back after featuring in ALF #4.
- Between the Lines by Har Hollands is no stranger to light festivals, the Eindhoven based architect was the curator of GLOW light festival in Eindhoven from 2010 to 2015.
- Surface Tension by Tom Biddulph and Barbara Ryan, met in London and now working in Amsterdam, are back for their second collaboration at ALF. Last year (ALF #7) they showcased edition #7 they created the light sculpture Night Vision.
- De Nachtloerrrders (Night Voyeurs) by Amsterdam based advertising agency, 72andSunny, are showing off their first installation this year.
- The Ice Is Melting At The Pøules by Martin Ersted is a Danish light artist who’s had work featured light festivals in Denmark and Iceland.