Amsterdam Light Festival 2017

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The Amsterdam Light Festival is one of the world’s most accurately named festivals in the world – it’s a festival of lights, and it’s in Amsterdam.

But there’s a little more to this wintertime spectacular than a few errant light bulbs; it’s an innovative platform for international artists that has grown from its humble beginnings to become one of the most popular art festivals in the Netherlands. This year’s festival runs from 30 November until 21 January and is gearing up to be bigger and brighter than ever before!

A Modern Tradition

The Light Festival already feels as integral to the Dutch wintertime as Sinterklaas and pepernoten, but it’s actually a relatively new celebration. The first festival was held in 2011, and it’s stuck to much the same formula ever since. ‘Light Art’ has existed in various forms for centuries, but it was only with the advent and affordability of LED technology that the potential for creating truly retina-boggling exhibits and sculptures really took off. The dimly lit open spaces of the Amsterdam canals proved too big an opportunity to miss, and ALF as we know it was born.

In the Spotlight

This year, the festival proudly features the work of 35 artists from all over the world, united by the theme ‘Existential’. A far cry from the chin-stroking authors who haunted Parisian cafes in the ’30s and ’40s, this form of Existentialism celebrates the ways in which light brings together people of all backgrounds – a message that’s more important now than ever before.

An undeniable highlight of this year’s roster is the inimitable art-activist Ai Weiwei. The celebrated Chinese artist has never shied away from controversy and is unafraid of communicating challenging ideas in even his most accessible works. His contribution to this year’s Light Festival is still a closely guarded secret but prepare for an exhibit that’s every bit as politically charged as it is visually stunning.

Seeing Stars

With artworks custom-designed for Amsterdam’s iconic canal network, the best way to see the festival is always from the water itself – with many of the installations taking on a different form and meaning when viewed from below, their thousands of lights dancing across the water’s surface.

Luckily, there are many specialized canal cruises available, ready to take you right up to (and in some cases right through) all of the festival’s illuminated artworks. 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, following the optimised ‘Water Colors’ route. Snap-happy shutterbugs will want to climb aboard the special Open Top cruise, which is perfect for capturing those long-exposure shots of the dreamlike sculptures with nothing to obstruct your lens. Just make sure to wrap up warm – the Dutch winter can be extra brisk when out on the water!

Why not share your favorite photos of the festival with us on Instagram? You can check out more things to see and do during the festival on Tiqets

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Sevenoaks Asylum: a History of Misery

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The history of Sevenoaks Asylum is long and sordid, besmirched by several high profile scandals and inexplicable tragedies. What started as an attempt to cure society’s ills soon descended into a festival of brutality and sadism, with zero successful rehabilitations recorded.

Specific details regarding its management and operation are few and far between, as the majority of the asylum’s records were destroyed prior to its official declassification, and the veracity of contemporary accounts is considered wholly dubious.

What follows is compiled from contemporary news reports, eyewitness testimonies, and the scraps of medical records which survived the final, conveniently timed, fire.

The origins of evil

Sevenoaks was conceived at the turn of the 20th century as an independent rehabilitative facility, striving to cure persistent ailments through alternative medical and psychiatric practices – its treatment founded on the principles of open dialogue and mutual respect. These early forms of cognitive behavioral therapy produce positive results, and Sevenoaks received a sizeable private grant to ramp up its patient intake and expand into experimental chemical ‘realignment’.

The first scandal quickly followed, when Sevenoaks’ founder Dr. Richard ‘Dick’ Schneebly was unfortunately strangled. The perpetrator was Henry Watts, a 21-year-old voluntary Sevenoaks resident, who had been injected with a cocktail of cocaine and epinephrine in an attempt to cure his persistent bedwetting. The unrestrained patient proceeded to crush Schneebly’s trachea, before violently soiling himself.

The case sparked widespread outrage at Sevenoaks ‘soft’ and ‘leftist’ approach, and control of the facility was wrested from the Schneebly estate and transferred to Bates Medical Solutions. BMS was then a young pharmaceutical company, bolstered by its links to both the Catholic church and new agricultural initiatives in Columbia. BMS quickly reassessed the Sevenoaks patient population, and determined the current 87 nonviolent cases to be an immediate threat to society. Almost overnight, Sevenoaks was transformed from a rehabilitation clinic into a lunatic asylum.

From clinic to asylum

The first (recorded) death occurred within a matter of weeks. A young primary school teacher, initially seeking hypnotherapy treatment for insomnia, responded negatively to her updated program – which now comprised repeated applications of blunt trauma to her cranium. Despite the initial protestations of onlookers, a psychiatric officer pulverized the teacher’s frontal lobe with a length of lead piping, in an attempt to “pound the antisoporific spirits from her unholy mortal coil”. As the woman slipped into a “profound and permanent slumber,” the procedure was internally classified as a success, and the officer in question was promoted for his efforts.

Mysterious sightings

It was around this time that the first reports of Sevenoaks’s ‘hauntings’ were filed, although these were swiftly dismissed as the ramblings of the insane. The fragments of a medical journal that was discovered in the grounds reports persistent sightings of gaunt white figures skulking in the shadows, but these were taken as admissions of catastrophic insanity, and those reporting such sights were immediately lobotomised. Although no patients were ever officially reported to have escaped Sevenoaks, it is thought that these ghoulish figures may have been former patients, driven feral by their treatment, and now living in the dense forestry surrounding the asylum.

An official inquiry was launched following the statements of a well-intentioned nurse, but it was quickly dismissed when the bodies of the nurse and investigating officer were found in the asylum grounds, their genitals apparently bitten off. Northbridge himself concluded that the nurse was a schizophrenic homosexual, who had fabricated a case of misconduct in a self-destructive attempt to lure virile young police officers onto the premises.

“Chemical fortifications”

This was enough to dissuade further police intervention, and Northbridge was allowed to continue relatively unabated. His newest appointment, Dr. Angus McTaggart, was the first to suggest that Sevenoaks’ treatment programmes might be enhanced and expedited by the “chemical fortification” of its own staff members. Northbridge’s one concession to his predecessor’s liberal politics was to allow his personnel free reign to experiment with the available narcotics at their own discretion. At one stage, Sevenoaks was receiving weekly consignments of morphine, cocaine, and amphetamines weighing close to a half-ton, funded by the seizure and reappropriation of patient assets.

It’s rumored that patient overpopulation and dwindling budgets prompted McTaggart’s implementation of the facility’s elective execution programme. Promising a swift and permanent cure to all ailments, the policy was legitimated by a subclause in the patient admission contracts, the vast majority of which were signed by proxy. The new approach saw a dramatic reduction in accidental mortifications, and was celebrated as a resounding success.

A grisly discovery

Rumours of haunting were intensified with the tragic discovery of a party of schoolchildren, who seemed to have strayed onto Sevenoaks’s property while playing in the woodlands. They were found with their throats cut, and their naked bodies adorned with “satanic runes and symbols”. Despite a lack of any weapon, the incident was determined to be a “ritualistic group suicide,” and the case was closed. We can see from the recovered pages of a physician’s diary that many staff members were troubled by mysterious echoes of children’s laughter, leading to widespread paranoia and increased narcotics use. Several Sevenoaks employees took “immediate and permanent retirement” following the discovery of the children’s bodies, and at least one staff member filed down his own ears with an industrial belt-sander in an attempt to “stop that damned laughing”.

The end of Sevenoaks

BMS’s research into the limits of human physiology branched out into ever-more extreme fields. One Dr. Mitchell Talbot proclaimed himself to be a pioneer of “psychiatric dentistry,” and believed that antisocial neuroses stemmed from “succedaneous irregularities”. His prescribed treatment amounted to the forcible removal of all teeth without anesthetic. Talbot opted to perform many of these procedures himself, using a trademark ball-peen hammer, and stored the collected teeth in a jar on his nightstand.

The one relief that can be gleaned from Sevenoaks’ sordid history is that corruption of this magnitude is simply unsustainable. The squandering of the facility’s sizable funds led to the necessary downsizing of the armed security detail which patrolled the grounds and accompanied key officials. As conditions worsened, patient unrest began to increase, a matter not helped by the fact that the majority had subsisted on a diet of gruel and freebase stimulants for the entirety of their treatments.

It is not clear what started the final, fatal fire. The blame was immediately levied at unstable patients, yet it’s equally likely that Sevenoaks was set ablaze by its own staff, unhinged by increasingly appalling working conditions and painful withdrawal symptoms. The only two bodies officially identified were those of Northbridge and McTaggart, whose desecrated corpses were found pinned to the walls of their offices – suspended by the very instruments which they had used to inflict so much suffering. No patients officially survived the fire, which ravaged the institution and erased much of the (haphazardly organized) paperwork. The later discovery of soot-streaked footprints leading away from the ruins, prompted speculation that at least one patient may have escaped, although their whereabouts and fate is still ultimately unknown.

Upon revisiting the site, police officials declared the operation “too horrible, and too heinous to even contemplate” and detectives were satisfied that any and all perpetrators perished in the flames. Whether or not the lack of earlier police involvement was product of further corruption, is still a matter of some debate. A formal case was levied against BMS by one patient’s surviving family, but it was quickly dropped when all members of the prosecution were involved in a fatal car accident, hours before a crucial hearing.

Bates Medical Solutions is still operational, now contracting their services to the United States military. They have never officially commented on the happenings at Sevenoaks, or been charged with any form of misconduct.

For the first time ever, Sevenoaks Asylym is open to the public – visit now with Tiqets

 

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