Ghent's Light Festival, which will illuminate the city's historic centre with new works and classic installations, will start tonight (Wednesday).
The festival's fifth edition, including 32 works created by Belgian and international artists, will take place from Wednesday until Sunday 14 November. It marks one of the first major events in the city since the coronavirus crisis began and is expected to attract large crowds.
"After earlier postponements, everyone is really looking forward to it. We are counting on the common sense of the visitors," Annelies Storms, city councillor for Festivities and Events, said.
As the light festival is free and unticketed, the city is unaware of how many people will be attending the event. Given the rising coronavirus infections in Belgium, a number of measures have been announced to ensure the safety of all attendees.
A Covid Safe Ticket (CST) will not be required but wearing a face mask will be mandatory throughout the entire route, while individual exhibitions can be switched off if too many people are gathered in one place.
Five must-see installations
With the pandemic continuing to dominate daily affairs, the health crisis is even at the centre of one of the festival's main works.
The "Lockdownlights" installations (numbers 1, 13 and 26 on the map) include a total of 450 lights, an assembly of quirky lamps, creative designs, funny, dazzling, glittering, and ingenious creations by more than 500 "Gentenaars" from 30 organisations, schools, residential care facilities, and art academies, put together during last year's lockdown.
The lights are a celebration of being able to go out and meet loved ones again after a long period of staying indoors during the lockdowns.
On the historic Vlasmarkt, an immersive experience titled "Diving in the Sea of Colours" (number 6 on the map) transforms the square into a bath of colours. Ten large projectors create a huge blanket of colour on the floor, submerging visitors in the waves of colour.
Meanwhile, one of the most popular works of the 2015 Light Festival has returned to a new location for this fifth edition. "Cloud" (number 21) is an installation consisting of 6,000 light bulbs that can be controlled by the spectators themselves. Allowing the public to manipulate the work, means it constantly looks different.
Further along the route, "Fantastic Planet" (numbers 32 and 33) transports visitors to what feels like a scene from a movie – artist Amanda Parer took inspiration for her work from the synonymous 1973 Czech/French stop-motion science fiction film – surrounded by six gigantic "humanoid figures."
They have just landed on our planet, and are using their light to cautiously explore Earth.
The final work on the map's route (number 36) brings back a favourite installation shown in the festival's first edition in 2011: "The big fire that never happened" – a work of art that can look so credible that, when tested, citizens spontaneously call the fire brigade.
The installation puts visitors at the heart of a fire with disastrous consequences to confront them with the fragility of our cultural heritage, while highlighting that catastrophe can also create an opportunity for something new. This year, the Sint-Nicholas church goes up in flames, with the help of the Centre's fire brigade.
Spotlight on less-known locations
The route, which will be uni-directional, has been extended to 7.2 kilometres in total for crowd control, meaning locations that are normally not included in the festival will also be highlighted.
Visitors will be taken over the Slachthuisbrug and past the Coyendanspark in the east of the city. The Prinsenhof – once the seat of the Counts of Flanders – will also be included on the route, as well as two parts of Ghent that have been completely renewed since the last Light Festival in 2018 – the Maaseikplein and the Reep.
Meanwhile, Ghent's famous waterways and canals will be central to the festival's route, which takes visitors past the historic Graslei, the Huidevetterskaai and the Achterleie, as well as the Korenmarkt and Sint-Baafsplein.
The route itself will be completely traffic-free, from both motorised vehicles and bicycles. However, the city will provide extra secured bicycle parking places along the edge of the track, including on two floors of the parking lot at Sint-Michiels which will be freed up to accommodate more than 1,600 bicycles.
The Light Festival will open to the general public at 7:00 PM. The installations will be lit up every evening from this time until midnight; except on Sunday when the Light Festival will start at 6:00 PM. More information can be found here.