Across 23-acres at Longwood Gardens, Philadelphia, the British artist Bruce Munro has installed thousands of sparkling stems and glowing grass blades in a series of illuminated works that live up to names such as Forest of Light.
Across 23-acres at Longwood Gardens, Philadelphia, the British installation artist Bruce Munro has installed thousands of sparkling stems and glowing grass blades in a series of illuminated works that live up to names such a Forest of Light. The artist explains to us the bright ideas behind his first large-scale solo show.
Bruce Munro is a British installation artist working in light but for his latest project he played a role that included landscape gardening and creator of magic. Commissioned to install works throughout Longwood Gardens – a 23 acre site just outside of Philadelphia that is similar to Kew Gardens in London with a series of antique glasshouses – Munro seamlessly incorporated his signature light spectacles into the gardens themselves, blurring the lines between nature and art. Using 20,000 illuminated stems scattered across a forest walk he created the ‘Forest of Light’; 7,000 more sparking stems with flower-head like bulbs were planted on the banks of a lake; and in the lake itself floats Munro’s ‘Waterlilies’ made up of hundreds of shimmering CDs.
“Creating works that speak to the landscape but also enhance the natural beauty of the Gardens was an exciting artistic challenge,” says Munro of the six large-scale outdoor installations that transform the gardens from dusk onwards and which are accompanied by two works within the 4-acre Grand Conservatory, and other illuminated creations in the Music Room.
Titled simply ‘Light,’ Munro’s exhibition at Longwood Gardens is not only the first time his work has been seen outside of the United Kingdom but is also his debut large-scale solo show anywhere. Art critics, light designers and the gardening community alike have delivered rave reviews for Munro’s ability to create an experience akin to the natural wonders of fireflies or plankton that glows in the dark under the sea. What did the artist himself intend for visitors to see? “I hope that guests will see in these works the beauty of melding light and the landscape to become one.”
Light: Installations by Bruce Munro at Longwood Gardens
Until September 29, 2012
Beyond Flower Garden Walk
“The idea for Arrow Spring came to me on a bike ride in 2009. I was thinking about the meandering pathway that led through a work of mine called CD Sea (in which 600,000 recycled CDs were laid out in a field in the British countryside) and realized there was a natural connection to the spiritual rivers described in two of my favorite books, Kim by Rudyard Kipling and Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. My idea was to simply create a serpentine river of light, and the title of the installation is taken from the River Arrow in Kim.”
Field of Light
“Field of Light was originally conceived in 1992 during a trip I took through the Red Desert in central Australia. Deserts have an incredible feeling of energy and ideas seemed to radiate from them along with the heat. They also have many incongruities: they seem to be infertile, barren places until it rains and they bloom like a veritable Eden. I wanted to create an illuminated field of stems that, like the dormant seed in a dry desert, would bloom after darkness falls with gentle rhythms of light under a blazing blanket of stars.”
“Longwood Gardens’ famous homegrown Victoria lilies were the catalyst behind my creation of giant Waterlilies made out of CDs—a material I worked with extensively in my CD Sea installation (in which 600,000 recycled CDs were laid out in a field in the British countryside). I also must give credit to two other inspirations. First to C.S. Lewis’s book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which depicts a sea of white lilies that signifies the border between two worlds, and second to a Georgia O’Keeffe painting that shows a clear blue Arizona sky populated by abstracted clouds receding from the bottom to top edge of the canvas.”
Canopy Cathedral Treehouse
“As a lighting designer who has spent years creating complete schemes for both interiors and exteriors, I am highly attuned to how lighting sets the mood and stirs the emotions. I wanted to emphasize the sacred sense of Canopy Cathedral with a flickering light reminiscent of candles. Creating a balance between functional and decorative is all in the details, and adding mirrors served both purposes. The right kind of lighting can transform the subconscious feeling of a space entirely.”
Meadow at Hourglass Lake
“When I was 21 years old, I read a book called The Gifts of Unknown Things by Lyall Watson, a radical thinker operating on the margins of accepted science. In it Watson describes Tia, a young girl living on an island in the Indonesian archipelago who possesses the magical gift of seeing sounds in color. Watson also writes about how the Earth has a natural pulse in the upper atmosphere, resonating at a rate of 69 beats per day. The pulse forms a deep note well below human powers of hearing. As a tribute to Watson, the installation consists of 69 towers that change color according to the music played from them. As a result, visitors will experience sound translated into color, just as Tia did.”
Forest of Light
“Forest of Light is an arboreal variation on my work Field of Light, which was originally conceived in 1992 during a trip I took through the Red Desert in central Australia. Deserts have an incredible feeling of energy and ideas seemed to radiate from them along with the heat. They also have many incongruities: they seem to be infertile, barren places until it rains and they bloom like a veritable Eden. I wanted to create an illuminated field of stems that, like the dormant seed in a dry desert, would bloom after darkness falls with gentle rhythms of light under a blazing blanket of stars. By placing an alien installation in the midst of nature, the enormous contrast allows one to literally see the wood from the trees, and that has always been the focus since the idea first germinated so many years ago.”
“The design of Snowballs came about partly through luck and partly through the wonderful book illustrations of Raymond Briggs, specifically his 1992 classic The Snowman. The lucky part came about one day when I was stuck in a traffic jam in front of a shop displaying translucent Christmas balls. I simply wondered how the balls would look clustered together, hopped out of my car and bought all the stock. The design came together within days. The name came about because the illuminated colors reminded me of the subtle hues in the animated version of Briggs’ book that shows snowmen dancing under the soft hues of the Aurora Borealis.”
“In 2008 I was invited to propose some alternative lighting designs for a contemporary highland lodge at the head of Loch Ossian in Scotland. I found myself sitting on a step halfway up the main stairs of the lodge absorbing a magnificent, uninterrupted view of the loch and group of snow-capped mountains beyond it. It was raining in squalls against the plate-glass window, which distorted the view with rivulets of water streaming down the panoramic pane. The words “light” and “shower” registered in my mind and I had my idea. The original installation now hangs motionless as if suspended in time, overlooking but not interrupting the view of Loch Ossian. By day it catches glimpses of the sunshine, shedding prismatic flecks of light onto the stairs, by night it morphs into what it is: a shower of light.”