With a little help from the creators of the world-famous Amsterdam Light Festival, downtown Bangkok serves up a buffet of illuminations
Ratchaprasong, Bangkok's famous shopping strip, is well known for its annual festive lights that usually stretch from Siam Square up towards Chidlom.
This year the area is brighter than ever thanks to "Thailand Kingdom of Light II", an extravagant showcase of millions of lights plus world-class light art from the Amsterdam Light Festival.
The dazzling festival, which has as its theme "Thai's Enlightening Moments", is divided into five zones. The sacred Brahma shrine at the Ratchaprasong intersection has become a "Lighting Pavilion" to welcome visitors who come to pay their respects to Brahma and pray at the shrine. The Ratchaprasong Skywalk has morphed into tunnels of light and dubbed "Skywalk - The Garden of Light" under the concept "Fah Ngam Thee Plai Roong" ("Beautiful Sky at the End of the Rainbow"). The area beneath the Skywalk zone is decorated with a dazzling mesh of lights with a giant digital clock on the façade of CentralWorld. Now showing Thai numerals, the timepiece will change to Roman numerals on New Year's Eve so everybody can count down together.
The last zone is the International Zone and showcases world-class light art from Amsterdam Light Festival as well as collaborative masterpieces created by world-renowned lighting designers and their Thai peers.
"Together they have created masterpieces in the International Zone with the aiming of raising light festivals in Thailand to international standards."
"We have installed eight artworks: three of them are from the Amsterdam Festival of Light and five have been newly made in cooperation with students here in Bangkok," van der Heide tells Explore.
"These works are very international and they promote knowledge exchange and innovation because we work with students on sophisticated technology and computer programming. I think it is a great initiative. For the visitors, the event creates a wonderful line up of artwork that is interesting to see. It demonstrates light as a universal language that can be understood all over the world.
"Ratchaprasong is a very busy area so a lot of people can come and see these works. Our aim is make people smile when they see the lights. The artists would like to show how important friendship and laughter are. Instead of doing it in their own languages, they do it with lights, which is basically understood by everybody. Light is a very great way to bring people together and unite them around something positive," he continues.
"I help to choose the artworks that are relevant to the location. The artists have to radiate the positive message to the public and they have to be imaginative. One of the criteria is their artworks should be understandable to everyone. Some works like 'Floating Light' are quite abstract but people can interact with the art and use their own imagination while they make the light tube 'dance'. I like it because it helps you make a connection with the art."
Van der Heide adds that to him, light creations are both art and science. "Lighting is very artistic and there are lots of stories about light. We have those 50 origami elephants that people like. The elephant is the symbol of Thailand; it is ancient and traditional. What the students put in there is sophisticated technology. We use laser cutting and drawing with 3D software in the computer. We bring together two worlds that are totally different and make it easy to understand.
"The heart-shaped work '195 Bottles, 1 Message' by Dutch artists Saskia Hoogendoorn and Lieuwe Martijn is made of 195 bottles with LED lights representing 195 countries in the world and the one message is that there is only one religion that is really important to this world - love," Rogier says.
The famous light designer admits with a rueful grin that in sleepless areas like Ratchaprasong, installing light art is hard but adds that LED technology makes it possible.
"It is very true that you cannot make light if there is no darkness. That is the basic concept in architecture. But LED technology gives us greater flexibility in creating light sculptures even in places that are not so dark.
"In the past, lighting technology was quite expensive and very difficult to install. You needed electricians, high voltage power, and it would be very hot. Now with LED, everyone can make a light sculpture. It is easy, flexible, affordable and it uses low power like batteries. You can use your smartphone to control it. Just download the app and you can control your LED lights.
Light is everything to van der Heide who used to look after the lighting for ballets and operas.
"The more I worked with electrical light, the more I became interested in the real light like the light from the sun. I wanted to know how it worked, how it touches us, emotionally and physically. There are so many things in our body that are regulated by light, like our biorhythms and our sleep. I feel very thankful for every morning even though I know that tomorrow the sun will always come up.
"Light has a long history in all cultures. It is something that never gets boring. I teach it at the university and there is always something new. When you teach, the students will always come up with some new questions and I think it is very interesting."
"We started working on the International Zone in September and in only two months we have these amazing artworks. It would be great to start working on the project earlier next year to engage the artists, the engineers and technicians so we can work together and exchange our knowledge and make better artworks. We would be a platform for these talents. Next year we will attract more artists and work with more universities and that will draw more partners," Rogier concludes.