nighttime field of small orb lights

Shedding Light on Light

By Katie Mobley, on

We are positively elighted that Light: Installations by Bruce Munro will very soon be gracing our Gardens—and that very soon our guests will be experiencing the transformative power of light as only Munro can express. This new, immersive exhibition transforms our Gardens into a new world of sight and sound, and with the exhibition spanning eight large-scale light installations inspired by the spaces they inhabit, there is much work to be done—especially when a singular installation features 18,000 illuminated bulbs, or 1,000 flamingos, or a sphere of 1,820 bottles each filled with a single fiber optic cable. With the June 30 opening of Light upon us, here’s a look at all the behind-the-scenes preparation and details that go into the wonder that is Light.

While we’ve been planning for this exhibition with Munro and his team for years, it wasn’t until May 17 that the first shipping container filled with all the materials, mechanics, and gear for Light arrived here at our Gardens. With Munro’s team on hand to help unpack and organize the materials, we officially kicked off our install process on May 18. Simply put, Light would not be possible without the team of approximately 100 Longwood volunteers and community members who are graciously fulfilling approximately 400 shifts during the six-week exhibition install, working alongside Munro’s team.

The install process began with Field of Light, a luminous expanse of 18,000 illuminated bulbs that stretch along our Large and Small Lake landscape. With its reflections flickering in the water, Field of Light is immersive, calming, and exceptionally beautiful—and was a favorite element of the 2012 Light: Installations by Bruce Munro exhibition, which served as Munro’s first solo exhibit in the United States. Field of Light has been exhibited on several continents across landscapes to waterways to cityscapes, with each location offering a different experience—and we thrilled to feature this ever-changing installation again in our Gardens. 

people installing lights in a field

During the Field of Light installation, the team organized the thousands upon thousands of fiber optic cables, planting the acrylic stems organically around the Large and Small Lake. Photo by Scott Hummel. Artwork copyright © 2022 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved.

close up image of small lights in the daytime

During the Field of Light install, the team attached each and every glass sphere to the stems—18,000 in total. Photo by William Hill. Artwork copyright © 2022 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved.

aerial image of a field of small lights

Light and color sequence tests are conducted to make sure each detail was perfectly aligned to the artistic intent. The above aerial shot was taken during a late May light test. Photo by Carol Gross. Artwork copyright © 2022 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved.

Following Field of Light, the install team moved on to Green Flash. Found in our East Conservatory, this thought-provoking installation is a monumental sphere constructed from 1,820 recyclable plastic bottles, each with its own single fiber cable. When illuminated, the sphere assumes the colors of a rising and setting sun, changing over time in intensity and hue—and, every 15 minutes, a green flash mimics the natural phenomenon that can sometimes occur at sunrise or sunset when light on the horizon creates a momentary spot of iridescent green.

To make Green Flash possible, the team drilled small holes into the bottle caps before attaching each bottle to acrylic panels.

Acrylic panels with bottles laying on a stone floor

Acrylic panels with bottles await fiber optic cable threading. Photo by Scott Hummel. Artwork copyright © 2022 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved.

people putting fiber optic cable and threaded each fiber through the holes in the bottle caps

Next, the team organized the fiber optic cable and threaded each fiber through the holes in the bottle caps. Photo by William Hill. Artwork copyright © 2022 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved.

people assembling a metal dome

The Munro team creates the metal dome for Green Flash. Photo by Scott Hummel. Artwork copyright © 2022 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved.

people assembled acrylic panels to a metal dome to complete a sphere

The Munro team attached each assembled acrylic panel to the metal dome to complete the Green Flash sphere. Photo by Richard Donham. Artwork copyright © 2022 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved.

From Green Flash, the team next worked on Ramandu’s Table, a fantastically fun installation of 1,000 flamingoes wading in the shallows of the Chimes Tower basin. Illuminated by the shifting colors of dawn, the installation was inspired by Don Featherstone, the artist and inventor of the pink plastic flamingo that redefined the suburban landscape in 20th century America—Munro’s father once brought back a flamingo from the US when Munro was a child. The whimsical flamingo form helps interpret the mythmaking of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, which tells the story of the old man who is visited by a flock of white birds every morning as he sings the dawn into existence.

1,000 plastic flamingoes in a pond

Assembling Ramandu’s Table meant assembling 1,000 flamingoes! The team inserted the legs into the flamingo bodies, and then inserted each flamingo into slab bases. Along the way, the team helped map the shape of the artwork and placed the flamingoes in the water. Photo by Candie Ward. Artwork copyright © 2022 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved.

Next up: Gone Fishing, a spectacular installation of three large fountains of light that rise from the surface of the Small Lake, each fashioned of 100 illuminated fishing rods. Inspired by long days spent fishing in quiet streams and lakes, Munro designed Gone Fishing as an invitation to pause and experience the unique joy of being still.

people assembling fishing rods into a large circular base

Installing Gone Fishing required highly intricate work. The team helped assemble the floating bases and then inserted the hundreds of fishing rods into the bases. After installing the rods into the bases, the team threaded fiber along each rod and through the components to help tension the fiber. Photo by Hank Davis. Artwork copyright © 2022 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved.

people moving a sculpture of real fishing rods onto a lake

The team guides one of the Gone Fishing sculptures to the Small Lake. Photo by Hank Davis. Artwork copyright © 2022 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved.

guiding a sculpture of fishing rods in place in a lake

Once each sculpture was completed, the team guided the pieces into the lake, where the Munro team positioned and anchored them in place. Photo by Hank Davis. Artwork copyright © 2022 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved.

With the successful installation of Field of Light, Green Flash, Ramandu’s Table, and Gone Fishing, there are still four components of the exhibition that, at this point, remain to be installed. These include the captivating projection experience C-Scales, an exploration of light, water, and time that transforms our Exhibition Hall’s sunken floor into a screen made from hundreds of reflective compact discs. Crafted of a large dome of stainless steel discs, Time & Again at Paulownia Allee brings to mind the face of a futuristic clock. A line of 162 illuminated cubes winding through a field next to the Meadow Garden gives us SOS, where pulsing lights are synchronized to the sounds of a radio being tuned by an unseen hand. In the Music Room, Time & Place features 15 of Munro’s original works on paper inspired by a series of 360-degree photographs taken around our Gardens.

See the intricacies, the imagination, the awe-inspiring wonder that is Light firsthand, on view Thursday through Sunday evenings beginning June 30 and through October 30.

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