I had high expectations for the Amsterdam Light Festival, particularly after the runaway success of Eindhoven’s GLOW Festival a few weeks ago. To add some extra excitement to proceedings the weather forecast claimed it was going to be a dry evening. After days of foul weather, that seemed like reason enough to stump up €40 for two tickets on a boat ride around the festival route.
I’ve never been on a boat on Amsterdam’s canals, even at night it gives you a unique perspective on the city that you just don’t get on foot or cycle. In the traditional Dutch manner, no one has curtains and so as you sail along you can see into most people’s homes. The glimpses of domestic life were as fascinating (if not more so) as the Light Festival.
I’m mystified by the Dutch habit of not covering windows. It’s not as if they’re unaware of the existence of curtains, blinds and other ways of dissuading people from looking into your home. I once saw a man having breakfast in front of a window with his dressing gown open wide enough to put me off my breakfast. At moments like this I remind myself that this was the birthplace of Big Brother.
The sculptures were themed around the concept of ‘Friendship’. This doesn’t seem to have ignited the imagination of the artists. There were some interesting installations, but many were underwhelming, and in a couple of cases not actually illuminated. In the end the boat ride – and looking through people’s windows – was the best thing about the festival.
There were some outstanding sculptures: the intricate Crossing Paths strung across the canal like crazy string; My Light is Your Light, a depiction of refugees trudging towards safety, neon people reflecting in the canal; two Talking Heads sitting across the canal from each other, animated by 4000 LED lights; the running, leaping neon person in Run Beyond; and the surreal Polygonum. All worth seeing.
The festival can be seen from the roads and bridges, but it is best viewed from canal level. The boat trip – highly recommended – took 75 minutes and came with free glühwein. Given how cold I was by the time our boat pulled into the dock in front of Central Station, the glühwein was a lifesaver.
Deciding we needed to be indoors, we joined the Friday night crowds and headed for the warmth of our favourite Amsterdam bar.