Interview with Bruce Munro on New Exhibition Light

Internationally renowned British artist Bruce Munro will open Light, an exhibition of 10 breathtaking, large-scale outdoor and indoor lighting installations coupled with indoor sculptures, at Nashville’s Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art from 24 May through 10 November. The exhibit will include four installations never before seen in the U.S. Using an inventive array of materials and hundreds of miles of glowing optical fiber, Munro will transform Cheekwood’s magnificent gardens, manicured grounds and rolling hills into an enchanting, iridescent landscape that emerges organically at nightfall. Aesthetica spoke to Bruce on his latest exhibition and what to look out for in the future.

A: Firstly, your art practice is centred on light, what is it about light that you feel drawn to use as your focal medium?

BM: It took me a number of years to come to this conclusion and once I had made my decision to work with light I stayed with it. Choosing a medium was incredibly helpful as it gave me a structure to work within. I have quite a wide ranging imagination and this containment has allowed me to retrace my steps when I have ended up a blind alley! One beautiful quality of light is that it captures the ephemeral. This illusive, seemingly no physical quality has a spiritual essence about it and makes it ideal as medium to use to express abstract concepts such as emotion and connection.

A: Your work is centred around light installations within natural landscapes and iconic buildings. Where do you draw your inspiration from for such large scale projects?

BM: Working with large scale landscapes and buildings was very much “wishful thinking,” I never imagined that I would get the opportunity to realise many of my ideas. The inspiration, and the ideas that follow, are changing constantly and vary in scale, medium and longevity. For example , Field of Light was inspired during a journey through the Australian Outback; Water towers was inspired by a book that I read when I was twenty one and CDsea by a Sunday afternoon sitting on a rocky peninsular in Sydney Harbour. As I get older I am inspired and drawn to simple things. I endeavour to express these experiences in the same way.

A: You work with both light sculpture and installations – do these varied mediums perform different roles in the narrative of your work?

BM: I do not have a set approach so I would say that all pieces; small and large are simply inspired by what’s in my mind on a particular day. I don’t see that short term time based pieces are more or less important than more permanent sculptures. But I do have a preference for the large scale installations to have a flavour of a performance; leaving the natural landscape as one found it is always important.

A: Your work often focuses on dramatic landscapes. Can you talk about your work in relation to the natural environment?

BM: The opportunity to create installations so large that they become dramatic landscapes has been a huge bonus and privilege for me. Although the original inspiration has often come from other times and places, my approach with an existing installation is always dictated to by the space. This helps keep the work fresh. For me, variations on a theme are as interesting as completely new works. Staying with one medium has showed me that exploration is infinite and what you think you know always has hidden surprises.

A: For such large scale installations, the viewer can become immersed with the work, what do you want the audience to take away from it?

BM: Appreciating /understanding scale is important and my ambition in the future is to work larger. This is not an ego driven desire but an instinct that in order to convey an idea/emotion it’s necessary to create a situation where the viewer is out of sight of the gallery walls. I like the idea that people can explore an installation in a private way …like going for a walk through the forest or a trip to the sea. It frees people up to make their own judgement about something and normalises “Art” to “art”. I would like people to take away a feeling of having experienced something positive …at its best a lovely smile.

A: Your new exhibition Light is opening at Nashville’s Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum on 24 May, can you tell us more about it?

BM: Cheekwood Botanical Gardens is my second large solo exhibition in North America. I am incredibly excited by Cheekwood because it’s truly a veritable jewel of the gardening world in North America. Aside from the beautiful landscape, Cheekwood has a number of beautiful interior gallery spaces, an established artist in residence programme and world class collection of paintings and sculpture. For me it’s both an added bonus and privilege to exhibit my work in their Mansion galleries.

The exhibition will comprise of seven exterior and two interior installations as well as an exhibition comprising of six sculptures and a film of my work.

A: The Field of Light has been a continual project for you, being recreated in several locations around the world. Can you tell us more about this specific installation and what your future plans are for it?

BM: Field of light is very much my touchstone. The idea was inspired during a trip through the Australian Outback in 1992 at an important juncture in my life. It took me twelve years to realise the installation and was the first piece of work of my present journey.

Uluru, central Australia is a powerful place. It’s a landscape that is best understood /appreciated by experience. I just felt alive and in addition to these immediate reactions I guess I realised that my understanding of a desert as a dead and barren place was plain wrong. Simply pondering the blooming desert after a rainstorm was proof that there was a unique potency about the place…Field of Light was simply my interpretation and expression of how it made me feel. I have never tried to read anything more into it than that, nor should anyone one else.

My goal is to create a temporary installation of a quarter of a million stems (solar powered) in the Uluru region. Last year I was invited by the tourism arm of the Indigenous Land Corporation to visit the area and look at a prospective piece of land. As with all these major installations, funding is vital ….it will happen when it’s meant to!

A: And lastly, what future projects have you got coming up?

BM: Following Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, exhibitions at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Columbus, Ohio, (September); Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire (UK) (November) and Edinburgh, Scotland February 2014. We are in the midst of finalising exhibitions at a number of other exhibition venues 2014-16. In addition I have a back log of installations I will be bringing to fruition in the field behind my home in Wiltshire.

Bruce Munro: Light, 24 May until 10 November, Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art, 1200 Forrest Park Drive, Nashville, Tennessee 37205.

Images courtesy the artist and Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art