When one thinks of Amsterdam, the first images that come to mind are narrow canals, windmills, and waffles – certainly not an artificial sand valley filled with life-size wooden castles, dragons, and cruise ships built out of found objects. At Magneet Festival 2012, however, these and many more surprises await. A month-long event in East Amsterdam, Magneet is an art, music, and food extravaganza where people from Amsterdam, Utrecht, and other neighboring cities flock on weekends. In its second year, Magneet (August 24th – September 16th) has blossomed this year in size and popularity. Reminiscent of Burning Man in the United States, it is a virtual playground for adults, offering an opportunity to retreat from city life and relax, dance, eat, appreciate art, and enjoy good company.
With a part spiritual, part hipster vibe, Magneet features various “tents” set up around the sand valley, each with a distinct flavor and schedule of events. The concept of the “crowdsourced” festival is that people can go online to an internet platform and pitch ideas for a creative initiative – this could be a sculpture, an activity, a performance, a musical set, a cooking class, etc. Ideas garner votes, and Magneet works with the artist to help create those with the most votes. The diversity of these events is incredible. While I was there, I hoola-hooped in the “Hoop Jam,” sat in on a baking class on organic raw cocoa chunks, and watched a flash mob of people dressed in safari outfits dancing around an inflatable raft.
In addition to activities and performances, the visual art is stunning. It is clear that each artwork comes from an individual vision, together making up a hodgepodge of personal artistic flair. All of the tents are decorated with the greatest care and creative thought; there is a teepee, a life-size barge constructed from old wooden planks, a vintage Volkswagon bus selling fruit shakes that is completely painted over with murals, and a massive dragon with a stand selling dim sum constructed out of the mouth. A half dome-shaped iron structure, draped with linen and fishing nets and with paper sunflower stalks nailed to the exterior, shelters a miscellany of sofas and carved wooden benches for people to sit around a fire pit inside. Sprinkled among the tents are numerous art pieces as well; these include a tower with pieces of paper for people to write and pin up notes to loved ones, a whale’s tail constructed from sheet metal, and a 20-foot tall parrot made of popsicle sticks perched on the rim of the sand valley. Apart from the art pieces, every aspect of the festival is visually exciting and features an artist’s point-of-view; the ticketing area is constructed of wooden planks stacked in a Jenga-like style and covered in colorful graffiti, the recycling bins are heart-shaped frames wrapped loosely with chicken wire, and even the entryway to the portable restrooms is decorated with vibrant fabrics, flowers, a tasseled lampshade, and block letters reading “STANK.”
At night, the musical venues are diverse. Last Sunday evening, some tents featured acoustic singer-songwriters in a coffee shop setup, while others blasted electronic and techno music. There was even an immensely popular band with a lead singer in drag. Even within any one tent did the musical topography frenetically vary. A circus-inspired tent on stilts, lined with tapestries and patterned sofas, featured short improv performances during the day, but transformed into a dance floor at night with music ranging from funk to Viennese accordion music. Because of the proximity of the tents, people can easily mill about and hop between tents, depending on the desired ambiance or what music each tent is playing. This creates a wonderful lightheartedness, as people never stay in one place for long and can take frequent breaks to seek out a different genre of music, sit around a bonfire, or have an organic cocktail.
The happy and carefree feeling at Magneet is palpable; it offers a total artistic experience, a feast for the eyes, ears, and spirit. One of Magneet’s greatest attractions is the people in attendance. Last Sunday’s crowd consisted mainly of people ages 18-30, but there were also a fair number of aging hippies and young families with toddlers. Each person had his or her own style of dress and dance, and nearly everyone seemed open to meeting new people and bonding over shared artistic or musical interests. Many people I talked with mentioned that they had been to Magneet multiple times throughout the month, and it is easy to understand why. Magneet offers the unusual experience of kicking your shoes off, playing in the sand under the sun, partaking in activities you haven’t done since childhood, dancing late into the night, and enjoying the last days of summer’s warmth.