Ryoji Ikeda: Dream Amsterdam 22.07.08

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A luminous white light is glowing from the roof of a 19th-century bandstand standing in the centre of a small pond in Vondel Park, central Amsterdam. Because of the sheer intensity of the colour, the details of the pavilion are rendered invisible and it is difficult to see any evidence of the light's source. A family of ducks nestles in the beam and the trees behind are silhouetted into flat cardboard cutouts.

This is just one of four installations by Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda who has created an "urban constellation" of light throughout Amsterdam as part of a public arts project called Dream Amsterdam. Ikeda cycled around the city for two days trying to find the sites for his installation to the east, west, north and south of the city. Apart from the bandstand, he chose to project onto the new extension of the Van Gogh museum, to set up 65 floodlights around the perimeter of a reclaimed gas ring in a culture park, and to beam 25 shafts of light into the sky from Java Island, a port-side peninsular.


Ikeda is more famous for his works in sound and is revered for his minimalist electronic music compositions. But as we travelled through the city visiting these projects in the middle of the night, Ikeda explains his interest and passion for architecture and public space. "The project is also about creating memory for spaces," he says. "If you come to visit this artwork you don't forget it. You always remember the experience and that is also about the place."

The projection for his second target, the Van Gogh museum, was set up from the museum director's office in the original 1960s Gerrard Reitvelt building. 25,000 watts of light – most commonly used in sports stadia – were beamed with high precision onto a small section of the crisp metal cladding of the new extension. The same powerful lights are visible as individual almost blinding circular elements at the converted gas rings in the Gustafson Porter-designed Westerpark. The experience of the light changes according to the density of the air pressure. The mist, the air, the wind and the humidity change radically the way people perceive it. On our visit the sky is very clear so the beams of light and their source were tangible. However on a more misty or humid night, Ikeda promised us the effect was more like a dense white cloud.


We arrive at the finale, a 20-minute drive from the park, at around midnight. Vertical beams of light – the same as the bulbs used in the World Trade Center Memorial installation – are visible as we approach Java Island. The small grassy peninsular is punctured with 20 neatly arranged black boxes looking a bit like a minimalist art project from the 90s, as did much of what we saw tonight. There is nothing particularly radical about the project, but what we saw was gentle and thoughtful and well executed. The eerie bandstand was the most successful of the four on the still summer night that we visited, but the light and the evenings will vary. We leave Java Island to the sound of insects zapping.


spectra [amsterdam] was produced by Forma

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Nick Cobbing



Beatrice Galilee

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 If you come to visit this artwork you don't forget it. You always remember the experience and that is also about the place

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