Lonely Planet Writer

Van Gogh’s 'The Starry Night' comes to life in Amsterdam

Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’ has been reimagined by Serbian artists Ivana Jelić and Pavle Petrović as an LED light installation over the canals of Amsterdam. The dazzling display is part of the seventh annual Amsterdam Light Festival but the artists say it’s also a comment on the issue of urban light pollution.

The Starry Night LED installation is part of the Amsterdam Light Festival. Image by Janus van den Eijned

Running until 20 January, the theme of this year’s Amsterdam Light Festival is ‘the medium is the message’- a statement made famous by the Canadian scientist Marshall McLuhan. Visitors to the Dutch capital can view 30 pieces created by artists from all over the world, including The Starry Night which recreates a section of Van Gogh’s famous work by using 1400 acrylic rods, lit by small LED lights. The installation was sponsored by Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum.

The Starry Night installation is part of Amsterdam Light Festival. Image by Pavle Petrovic

According to the artists, transparent rods were carefully placed in swirling formations to emulate the short brushstrokes and intensely swirling patterns of Van Gogh’s expressive, star-filled sky. The most challenging part was interpreting the famous work in an “authentic and respectable manner,” Petrović told Lonely Planet Travel News. “We also cared a lot about the clarity and transparency of the installation so it blends with surroundings and resembles the actual stars.”

The Starry Night installation is a comment on light pollution in cities Image by Pavle Petrovic

As our nights become alarmingly brighter, our starry nights disappear. According to research by the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute, 80% of Earth’s land mass suffers from light pollution, while for 99% of people in Europe and the USA the night sky is obscured by artificial lighting. The sprawling greenhouses in the Netherlands have made the country an especially bright hot spot.

The installation uses a series of 1,400 acrylic rods illuminated by small LED lights Image by Pavle Petrovic

By flipping the medium of The Starry Night from a painting illustrating natural light to an artificial light installation, Jelić and Petrović are highlighting that “light pollution manifests as the absence of starry nights.” The artists are also calling for more efficient ways to illuminate our cities, without having adverse effects on human health and wildlife.

Serbian artists Ivana Jelić and Pavle Petrović have reimagined Van Gogh’s famous painting The Starry Night as an LED installation Image by Janus van den Eijned

“We need to be careful with bright advertisements and improper street lighting, but also with glasshouses and other ever-glowing industrial facilities,” said Petrović. “The absence of stars is only the most obvious manifestation, but light pollution also causes some serious disturbances in the ecosystem that we should pay more attention to.”

Read more: Travel trends for 2019: dark skies