English artist Bruce Munro creates a magical lightscape at Brookgreen Gardens 

Field of Light

click to enlarge Bruce Munro says that Brookgreen Gardens reminds him more of a series of rooms than your typical garden

Mark Pickthall / courtesy Bruce Munro Ltd.

Bruce Munro says that Brookgreen Gardens reminds him more of a series of rooms than your typical garden

Hemingway famously said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." English artist Bruce Munro takes a similar view with his art: coalescing the whole of our shared human experience into something as simple as pixels of light. Creating art seems as natural to Munro as bleeding or breathing. As you'll see at the artist's upcoming exhibit at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, he can transform simple light beams — sometimes strung along fishing rods, reflecting off thousands of compact discs or planted in flower beds — into much more.

The upcoming show at Brookgreen Gardens is a version of Munro's most famous piece, "Field of Light," customized to fit the particular landscape of the South Carolina garden. Using a seemingly endless series of oscillating lights incorporated throughout the fauna, Munro creates an otherworldly, immersive landscape where the trees and grasses seem to come alive. It's as if a million stars fell out of the sky and landed inside every flower.

"Botanical gardens are all different and completely beautiful," says Munro, who has exhibited his light installations across the globe — Japan, Philadelphia, Arizona, Australia. "They all have something unique about them."

Brookgreen, says Munro, reminds him more than any other garden he's been to of a series of rooms.

"It's really like a huge gallery. You can place a piece of work in a different room and it has its own context and atmosphere. I was intrigued by this exterior space that has a kind of interior architecture," he explains. "Because the landscape is quite flat, they use the flora and these architectural features to make you discover in a way how you walk from one room to another. It's magical. It's almost as if the garden is floating above the wildness. There is a wall when you get to the end of the garden and you look over it to all these wild grasses and swampland where the trees have got this magical cobweb-y covering. I got the feeling that we were on this sort of island outside reality."

Munro has had the exploratory mind of an artist for as long as he can remember, finding a way to make art with recycled materials like used compact discs when he didn't have the money for expensive art supplies, a practice he says opened his eyes to "the beauty of the everyday object."

"I am one of these people who my mind is whirring around at 100 miles an hour still and there are a lot of things that catch my eye ... or catch my imagination," he says.

A world traveller now at age 60, Munro made his first trip to America around 1978: "My grandfather had given all his grandchildren 500 pounds, which was quite a lot in those days. All my cousins and siblings put their money to good use, squirreled it away for a down deposit on a car. But I took myself off to Florida and then hitchhiking around America."

click to enlarge MARK PICKTHALL / COURTESY BRUCE MUNRO LTD.
  • Mark Pickthall / courtesy Bruce Munro Ltd.

The inspiration for "Field of Light" came to him on a trip through the Red Desert in central Australia. Far from his first epiphany moment, Munro was often inspired by the natural elements while he lived in Australia — rock formations, sky, water. In this particular moment, Munro had the idea to create a field of illuminated stems, which would ripple to life under the stars at dusk.

"It came from the ground in a very visceral experience. I never would have imagined that it would make the journey it has. I think maybe I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time and maybe the antenna was working because I picked up on this feeling. It became an obsession to make it ... It became something that continued nagging at me and I knew it had to be done."

Munro took 12 years to bring the first iteration of "Field of Light" to fruition, and it's changed slightly to fit the environment of each subsequent show. What you'll see at Brookgreen is a unique display of nearly 12,000 lights sitting atop flower-like stems, oscillating between blues, pinks, greens, and yellows in a wave of color.

Munro's advice for viewing the exhibit? Keep an open mind and an open heart. Feel something when you go to the garden, he says, less concerned with what you feel and more concerned that you do take a moment to feel it viscerally. It's an experience much less to do with Instagram photos than something less tangible and much more meaningful.

"This work is a journey, and now that I'm just 60 I realize that life is short and sweet and we have a responsibility to really make the most of our short life," he says, "but also to communicate with our fellow human beings and to make the world a little bit kinder and a safer place for the people who inherit the future of this world. I say that in all seriousness, because we are all connected whether we like it or not."

As of press time, the exhibition is scheduled to open on May 1. It will remain open through Sept. 12, 2020.

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