Whether you’re a toddler taken in by the lights in motion or a book lover intrigued by the literary references, Bruce Munro’s art is for everyone. With influences ranging from cockatiels in Australia to clothes pins in Greece to C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Munro draws on a lifetime of experience to create each of his intricate pieces. But that doesn’t mean he’s overly earnest about his work. “Remember, it’s about smiling, really,” he says.
The internationally renowned artist will exhibit his work, which involves light and sometimes sound, November 12 through April 9 at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The show, comprised of several large-scale pieces, will light up the night after-hours at the arboretum, and represents the first in a series of after-hour ticketed events designed to attract visitors to the arboretum grounds.
Munro, who lives in an old renovated farmhouse about 110 miles west of London, has exhibited his work throughout the world. This exhibit will include three pieces that haven’t been shown before. In addition to pieces that will be placed outdoors throughout the grounds of the arboretum, Munro will also have hanging pieces on display in the Oswald Visitor Center, as well as an exhibit featuring photographic prints of his work. An evolving body of work, Light and Language, involves translating literature into Morse code, and projecting the poems, literature and mathematical equations as pulses of light set to sound. “I’m really, really excited by that, because nobody’s ever seen them before,” Munro says, noting that he’s been working on this piece for the past two years.
Munro, 57, studied fine art in college and dabbled in a variety of artistic mediums and professions before he first exhibited his light works in 1995. In 1985, he started an illuminated display company for retailers and exhibitions, which he sold several years later. In the mid-1990s, he started working on residential lighting projects and began to find a market for his lighting pieces.
In 2003, after purchasing the old farmhouse with a seven-acre field, Munro began designing the large outdoor installations that he’d been dreaming about for years. “We’ve renovated an old farm house, and it had lots of old buildings, which we’ve renovated into studios where everything is created, designed and made,” Munro says. “I’ve got a team of 12 who are really brilliant… We take it step by step, get it made and put together here.”
Munro’s work has shown throughout the world, including at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, at Uluru in Australia’s red desert, the Desert Botanical Garden in Arizona, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and at many other museums and exhibitions.
“I draw from the here and now, the past, sometimes what I imagine the future will be, from books I’ve read, from humor…” he says, listing his wide-ranging influences.
He visited the arboretum last March to see the landscape and begin selecting the pieces to display there—a key part of his creative process. “It’s seeing the landscapes,” he says. “It’s understanding the fauna and flora of the climate… I’m not the sort of fellow who just kind of creates and hopes it’s going to be all right in the space.”
Munro and his team have been working on the light sculptures for the past nine months at his studio in England. He returned to the arboretum in early October, working closely with arboretum staff and volunteers to set up the exhibit.
“It’s about being joyful and the brighter side of life,” he says. “I’m very lucky to be able to come and do this.”
Bruce Munro: Winter Light at the Arboretum
Open Thursdays through Sundays, beginning at dusk from November 12—April 9
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
Visit the arboretum website for ticket information and details about special events and tours, including special group sales and family oriented tours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the run of the show.
About the Exhibit
Bruce Munro’s work will be featured inside and outside this winter at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Here’s a brief preview of several of the pieces in the show:
When Munro visited the arboretum in March, he was delighted to discover the sap collection for the arboretum’s maple syrup. “For an instant, I felt captured in the midst of a Roald Dahl tale,” he writes in an artist statement.
“I was absolutely transfixed by the maple syrup lines, I’d never seen that,” he says. “I just thought that was brilliant. The idea of tapping syrup from a maple tree… It had never occurred to me that’s what it was.”
Inspired by the maple syrup collection—as well as years spent living in Australia and listening to cockatiels—he created a piece using the blue tubing from sap collection as a perch for a gathering of tropical “birds”—represented by brightly-colored clothes pins. “It’s a bit of fun, and I hope that people enjoy it,” Munro says. “You will have a cacophony of cockatiels speaking to the visitors in a North American forest in the middle of winter.”
The Good Seed looks a bit like a lamppost reimagined as dandelion fluff, with lights instead of seeds on each strand. It’ll stand outside the Oswald Visitor Center. Munro says it’s inspired by the eternally burning lamppost in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.
A grouping of many color-changing towers designed to look fluid. Each water tower is made from 252 stacked water bottles illuminated by optic fibers, and as visitors navigate the maze of towers, they’ll hear music from around the world.
Believe it or not, Munro’s visit to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum reminded him of a visit to a South Korean Island (Jeju Island). Both locations are windy, and Munro wanted to harness the arboretum’s winter winds with a display of small windmills that will spin in a variety of colors. “Visitors following the pathways can experience the installation as if immersed by a host of flowers and shrubs,” Munro writes.