In the days before unveiling his latest installation Field of Light: Avenue of Honour, artist Bruce Munro was painting in his studio in rural England. “It’s really therapeutic,” he says, “squeezing paint out of tubes and just playing around with it. It’s a good deal of fun.”
Such experiments are a bit of a departure for Munro, who is best known for his site-specific installations, sweeping landscapes that transform the mundane—fiber optic cables, CDs, clothespins—into see-it-to-believe-it experiences.
With his latest Field of Light installation, which opens October 4 in Albany, Western Australia, brings more than 16,000 glowing spheres—almost like dandelion puffs in size and shape—to the very shores where some 41,000 Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers departed to fight in WWI, in a free public exhibition. For the artist, it’s a reflection on time, space, and memory—and the emotional power of place.
“The fear they must have felt, and the bravery—it’s just beyond belief isn’t it,” Munro said of the soldiers who left from Albany between 1914 and 1918, the centenary of which the installation honors. (It was commissioned by FORM, a cultural non-profit in Western Australia.) “It’s a cathartic installation. It should stand for peace and reconciliation, but also allow people to commemorate their loved ones: men and women whose spirits should have been in their homeland flourishing and not being fodder for the cannons.”
The project is the latest in a series inspired by a 1992 trip to Uluru, the natural wonder in Australia’s Northern Territory when the artist tried to capture his experience of the site in his sketchbooks. “I find the landscape is a place that brings me back to myself,” Munro said of nature’s pull. Over the years, his investigations have grown, to the point where it requires a team to install each work—in fact, when we spoke, Munro’s wife and daughters were onsite in Albany, working on the Avenue of Honour installation.
Such projects may take a small army of volunteers to create, but that’s only just the beginning. With work like this, Munro said, each and every visitor brings their own experience to the artwork, as it itself constantly shifts from minute to minute and depending on the vantage point.
“It’s about human contact, it’s a time-based thing,” says Munro. That’s why it’s so important to experience his work—whether in Albany or in his upcoming installation at the Montalvo Arts Center, also opening in October—in person, he said. “Art is a language that’s beyond other forms of language. It’s different. Travel is a language, too, isn’t it?”
Translating that language into an experience to be shared with others is at the heart of Munro’s installations. “All I’m trying to do is get to the experience, the essence of what it was like to be in that place,” he said. Which sounds like reason enough to go ahead and book a plane ticket.
"Field of Light: Avenue of Honour" runs from October 4, 2018 through April 25, 2019. For more information visit fieldoflightalbany.com.au.