Dating back tens of thousands of years, the Anangu people, who are the traditional owners of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, have had a deep spiritual relationship with their land. And it’s hard not to feel it – there’s instantly a sense of harmony between the wild scenery and its inhabitants.
It is easy to see how English light artist Bruce Munro was so affected by Uluru when he first visited in 1992. Its undeniable beauty stirred within him the seed of an idea, which he recorded in his sketchbook. Twenty-four years later he returned to launch Field of Light amid the stunning landscape that inspired it.
“Field of Light was one idea that landed in my sketchbook and kept on nagging at me to be done,” says Munro. “In my mind I saw a landscape of illuminated stems that, like the dormant seed in a dry desert, quietly wait until darkness falls, under a blazing blanket of southern stars, to bloom with gentle rhythms of light.”
Munro’s path towards the light was sparked after an interview at a prominent advertising firm. Told he was too much of a “butterfly” – that is, too flighty and a bit of a drifter – a young Munro left disgruntled and disappointed. As he walked home he noticed a sharp beam of light reflecting off a window. Inspired, he walked into a store, bought all the light fittings he could afford and began creating. “I’ve stuck to light art since. Literally from that day,” he says. “And that’s become my medium to express my thoughts and ideas.”
BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME
A self-confessed “lousy painter”, Munro left Uluru after his first visit and immediately began working on a way to describe how the destination made him feel – through art.
But it wasn’t until 2004 that he set up his first conceptualisation of Field of Light in the field behind his family home in Wiltshire, England.
As word of the installation spread, Munro became somewhat of a “lighthouse keeper”, turning the lights on and off for anybody curious enough to visit.
“I met this really lovely lady who turned up and asked if she could drive her car up to the field … I went to turn the lights on and when I came back, she burst into tears. She gave me a hug. I just thought that this had touched somebody and there was something really important about this.”
Since then, Munro has taken Field of Light on tour, dazzling people at sites across the United Kingdom, the United States and Mexico.
Word soon made its way to Alice Springs and Ray Stone, who works for Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, the company that invited Munro back to Australia’s Red Centre.
A total of 50,000 slender metre-tall stems, crowned with frosted-glass spheres, were transported from Munro’s UK workshop to Ayers Rock Airport, where they were painstakingly installed in the shadow of Uluru. It took 40 volunteers six weeks to plant the fragile “crop”.
Connected by illuminated optical fibre, the thousands of solar-powered coloured spheres “awake” and illuminate when the sun goes down. The installation was inspired by the life that lies within the desert – the growth, the death, the intensity of colours, and the idea that with rainfall, new life is given to the landscape.
As the sun gives way to moonlight, gentle whites, soft ochres and deep purples bloom on the horizon. Almost a reflection of the night sky, Munro’s installation is an ebb and flow of soft, meditative, light. The artwork is just as magical in the early hours of the day, when Field of Light takes on a new existence: it somehow takes the colours of the dawn and absorbs them, giving the dramatic landscape a real sense of serenity.
“It’s a very gentle blooming as the lights come to life. The immersion truly lives up to its name. Once you get amongst it, you feel even closer to the landscape,” Munro says.
It’s the juxtaposition of something so temporary sitting at the altar of something so permanent that Munro wanted to explore. “This is one of those little activities that inspires something that can be bigger than ourselves,” says Munro. “I hope that this, in a small way, will encourage people to come out to a place that will inspire them, as it inspired me … We’re all very privileged to be invited and to share this land.
“The field of light is just a small intervention in time. What we really want is to get people out to Uluru. I think to see that rock, changes you.”
Field of Light runs until March 31, 2017. There are a variety of tour options available through Voyages (voyages.com.au):
The Field of Light Pass ($35) This includes return bus transfers to the remote site and time to experience the artwork.
The Field of Light Star Pass ($75) Includes transfers plus sparkling wine and canapés at an elevated viewing area at the end of the evening.
The 4.5-hour A Night at Field of Light ($235) The package includes an introduction to the artwork by a host, sparkling wine and canapés at sunset,
and a three-course buffet dinner showcasing bush tucker ingredients.
A Night at Field of Light by Camel ($375) A one-hour camel trip through red sand dunes to a viewing platform, followed by A Night at Field of Light dining experience.
A Night at Field of Light By Heli ($615) This package includes a half-hour aerial tour of Uluru and Kata Tjuta followed by A Night at Field of Light dining experience.
AYERS ROCK RESORT
Just 20km from Uluru, Ayers Rock Resort aims to please all tastes and budgets. There are five accommodation styles, from upscale Sails in the Desert to the family-friendly Desert Gardens Hotel.
Sails in the Desert has 228 lodgings ringing a gumtree-lined pool and two dining outlets, Ilkari Restaurant and Walpa Lobby Bar, showcasing bush tucker alongside traditional favourites. Excursions range from outback sky journeys to sunset camel rides. ayersrockresort.com.au