While the sweeping display of unspoiled starlight that glitters above Australia's sandstone monolith Uluru has no equal, you can't fault Bruce Monro for trying.
The English artist, best known for his large-scale, immersive light installations at sites around the world, has been thrilling visitors to Australia's most iconic rock with a display of some 50,000 solar-powered bulbs located on lands within Ayers Rock Resort. Each evening, as the scorching sun gives way to the afterglow of the heavens, Monro's "Field of Light" comes to life with Uluru (formerly known as Ayer's Rock) serving as an imposing backdrop.
The art installation, which opened in April 2016 and runs until the end of 2020, is composed of 15 tons of frosted-glass spheres, miles of snaking fibre-optic cables, and strategically placed solar panels. Within an area covering seven football fields are paths that encourage visitors to explore the fairytale setting and reflect on the gently glowing landscape. Not only do the spheres sway in the desert winds, but they also change color, creating a visual effect akin to bioluminescent plankton in ocean surf.
"We had an enchanting evening wandering along the paths watching the thousands of lights spread out as far as you could see slowly changing colors," wrote one tourist on Trip Advisor. "Different patches were different colors and they were constantly changing. The spectacular display of lights on the ground was matched by the night sky. The countless stars of the Milky Way on a cloudless night were magical and won’t be forgotten."
Munro, who crafted the 50,000 glowing bulbs (plus 10,000 extra for replacements) in his farmhouse studio in Wiltshire, England, says he was inspired to create the installation outside Uluru during a trip through the Australian Outback in 1992.
"Uluru, central Australia is a powerful place," he said in an interview with Aesthetica Magazine. "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."
In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, Munro said the Uluru installation took thousands of hours to pull off, with volunteers "planting" the stems of light over the course of seven weeks. Conscious of the region's rich natural beauty, he also made sure that his nighttime display didn't overpower the unparalleled majesty of the one unfolding up above.
"That's why it's not bright – I purposefully toned it down," he said. "If you raise the light levels, you fight with the stars and moon."
The installation is meant to be an interactive experience. Visitors to the Field of Light in Ayers Rock Resort –– about six miles from Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park –– have several options to choose from. These include a self-guided wander of the installation, a tour by camel or helicopter, and even a private three-course dinner set against the pulsing stems. Early-risers can partake in a "Sunrise" option that sets you up with coffee and tea on a dune overlooking Uluru and the glowing field below.
Once its run comes to an end in December 2020, Munro and his army of volunteers will recycle the entire installation for future art projects around the world. The artist's largest installation yet is already beginning to unfold under the stars of Paso Robles, California. Expected to open in May, the "Bruce Munro: Field of Light at Sensorio" will feature over 58,800 frosted, solar-powered stems planted across 15 acres.
"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," Munro told Aesthetica. "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."
You can view a 360-degree time-lapse video of Munro's art installation at Uluru below.