Wildflower Center Lights Up

Bruce Munro’s Calming immersive experience comes to Austin


SETTING SUN: As the sun sets, the fiber-optic light pods in the Field of Light art installation show their true colors. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Munro’s installation combines art, technology, and nature. photo by Beatriz Marteleto-Lara

Beatriz Marteleto-Lara, Staffer

Deep in South Austin, as the sun sets across MoPac, 16 acres of grassland light up at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Bruce Munro’s “Field of Light Austin” installation opened at the center on Sept. 9, but  Munro has exhibited Fields of Light all over the world, including a permanent installation in Uluru, Australia. Munro was inspired by a 1992 trip to Australia when he visited Uluru, where he felt compelled to create an art piece resembling dormant seeds blooming in the night.

“We were traveling in a car in the Outback, and we passed through a place called Uluru, which is right in the middle of the Outback,” Munro said. “I’d been told about it by many friends over the years, that it was an amazing place to visit. People always talk about these life-changing experiences. I’ve never quite believed it, but when I got there it completely got into my heart and my spirit, so that might have changed my life.”

According to Munro, he felt connected to the energy of Uluru, where he imagined The Field of Light. The installation features 28,000, fiber-optic, solar powered light bulbs covering 16 acres of grass. The lights shine at a low frequency, so they slowly become more visible as the sun sets, until they, along with the moon, are the sole illuminators of the Wildflower Center.

“I wasn’t trying to create a piece of art you go look at,” Munro said, “ I wanted it to be more immersive as an experience.” 

Munro works with light often, but according to him, he doesn’t think of himself as a light artist, just an artist who likes to use light. Freshman Lillian Poland visited the exhibit on its opening day and found Munro’s work very relaxing.

“It was nice,” Poland said. “It was really calming and soothing.” 

Others who have visited or work with the exhibit, such as Field of Light Event Director Sam Elkin, agree that the installation is very calming. The event focuses on the beauty of the light and the simplicity guides the viewer to really experience the exhibit according to Elkin.

“It’s a very meditative, calming, and cerebral experience,” Elkin said. “It’s a really simple, beautiful installation. There’s no music, it’s about enjoying being in the outdoors and experiencing the beautiful, beautiful light installation in a beautiful place

Field of Light Austin will be the 14th Field of Light Munro has done, starting with one in his home garden in the UK in 2003. The Field of Light is Munro’s longest lasting exhibition.

“[The exhibit has] never changed. They’ve evolved visually, but they don’t change at all conceptually,” Munro said. “I never thought it would get past our field, to be honest. And it was the response from people that was very, very moving for me.”

The response from the audience was overwhelmingly positive, according to Munro. Opening day was completely sold out. At the event, many people could be seen connecting with their family or friends. 

“I’ve had multiple people say how nice and serene [the installation] is and how it really helps calm them,” Elkin said. “Also it brings people together in a beautiful outdoor space. That’s something the artists really strive for, bringing people together.”

While many artists create artwork to express their personal feelings and innerworkings to the outside world as a way to cope, Munro wants to share his positive feelings and experiences with his viewers. He said art is never truly created for the artist only. There will always be a viewer, and what you choose to pass onto the viewer is the meaning of your work, according to Munro.

“You don’t have an exhibition until people look at it,” Munro said. “The visitors in the audience are really supposed to be part of it. A lot of people and artists think, “Well, this is all for me.” But it’s not because from that experience of the audience that the art is made.”

Many people had concerns about how the installation may affect the Wildflower Center’s wildlife since the lights take up nearly one fifth of the center’s area. Light pollution can harm plants, native animals, and migratory bird species. However, Munro was mindful of the wildlife, making sure the lights are on from 5pm-11pm so as to not harm native species.

“It was very in tune with nature,” Poland said. “You can tell they cared about that because there were boundaries, and the lights weren’t too bright, so they didn’t disrupt the animals.”

The concept of creating an exhibition in nature is not a new one, but it is still not as commonplace as indoor art. According to Munro, Field of Light is about bringing attention to the natural landscapes a place already has and just enhancing its natural beauty.

“I have this interest in how the landscape can change the art, and the art can change the landscape,” Munro said. “It’s a special sort of symbiotic relationship, and I’m always interested to see it… There’s these natural landscapes that are changing the way people see their emotions.”

Field of Light is an immersive artwork. It’s not meant to evoke any strong, aggressive emotions, according to Munro. He shared that his intentions were to make the viewer  think about themselves and their experiences in a new and hopefully more positive light. 

“I have not got any time to make negative experiences because I don’t want to do that,” Munro said. “I want to try and make things that make people joyful.” 

The Field of Light Austin is open for viewing until December 20, 2022. Tickets are available at fieldoflightaustin.com.