British artist Bruce Munro illuminates installations across Scottsdale

Written by Niki D'Andrea Category: Q&A Issue: September 2015
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Ferryman's CrossingBruce Munro literally sheds light on life and art, and each one's imitations of the other. The British artist uses a menagerie of reflective raw materials, LED lights and projectors to create installations that evoke an image or idea. To wit: His “Field of Light” installation (which he'll bring to Desert Botanical Garden this fall) utilizes 4,500 frosted glass spheres connected by illuminated optical fiber to create the after-dark illusion of a field of flowers blooming brightly in a breeze.

“Field of Light” is the first exhibit in Munro's “Desert Radiance” suite, which is lighting up Scottsdale this fall. He'll also be installing a large-scale piece titled “Blooms” at Scottsdale Waterfront, which consists of seven lily pad-shaped platforms, each 20 feet in diameter and crafted from a hundred 10-foot long fiber-optic fishing rods. A handful of additional Munro works will be on display at Lisa Sette Gallery.

We recently caught up with the affable artist to talk about his impending installations. See a list of Munro's Scottsdale exhibits and appearances after the Q&A.

Bruce Munro installationHow did you come to work with light as a medium?
I moved to Australia when I was 24, just for a life experience, and I kind of came across it in a formal sense walking through Sydney… when I was at art school – I have an interest in light; painting is all about light – but it hadn’t sort of registered in my mind, in that sense. I didn’t really think of it as a medium. It was more a question of just having a general interest. But as I got older, looking back on things, it’s amazing [how] you start to remember instances or happenings in your childhood which are light-based, whether it was watching water or the sky or Christmas tree lights or something like that. It’s incredible how those moments caught my attention. I guess I just needed a medium to catch me, and it caught me in the corner of my eye while I was walking down the street one day. I went and investigated the effect that I’d saw, and here we are 32 years later, still playing with it.

What are the inspirations behind the installations in the “Desert Radiance” suite?
I visited [Scottsdale] for the first time two or three years ago, and immediately… it reminded me so much of the outback in Australia. There’s a similar topography, geography and climate. Its obviously got its own charm... the Desert Botanical is a particularly beautiful garden. It’s very different from all the other gardens in North America, I think. Its got its own identity. And that for me was very exciting. You are able to use the garden, more than any other garden, because it’s got that wonderful dry heat in the winter. I’ve never actually been in the winter; I’ve only been during the hot months, but I can imagine it’s cooler and it must be a lovely experience. So it’s really made for light, and the landscape in light, so that was really exciting. The other thing is, the flora and fauna is very different to all the other spaces I’ve been to. So that was an inspiration. The climate is very different. So all those things, plus a number of other unique features of the garden, have created the exhibition. And also, with this opportunity in Phoenix, for me, it’s the first time we’ll be doing four installations, almost parallel... I feel very privileged to have an opportunity to be able to express a lot of different ideas in a lot of different mediums.

Water-TowersTell me about “Ferryman's Crossing,” the installation you'll have at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.
[It's] an ongoing piece that I’ve been working on in Morse Code now for a year and a half. And it’s an iteration of that, producing an installation inside the space... Some years ago, I used some CDs to recreate a memory from Sydney Harbour. This is still using the CDs, but we’ve created a special holder to hold them in a particular way, so we can create this corrugation. Basically, we’re building a river of CDs, and taking the text from a beautiful book – Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha – and putting Morse Code across the surface of 10,000 CDs. To approximate, if you’re standing by the river with the sun shining on it, you get the reflectivity of light on your face. So you close your eyes and you get that really lovely, dappled, lit effect... it’s not going to be exactly like that, but hopefully we’ll bring the feeling that you’re standing by [a river]. It’s an abstraction of a river, I guess.

What about the installation “Blooms,” at Scottsdale Waterfront? Is that an iteration of something you've done before?
That’s a new one, completely. I’ve always wanted to do something with fishing rods, but the idea was – I do some work with fiber, and fiber’s always been like fishing line to me. It has similarity... when I visited Scottsdale... this was prior to my knowledge of the waterfront and the history of it and how they maintain it and keep it clean. It was actually a little tongue in cheek, from my point of view. There was a bit of humor in there because there is in fact no fishing in that space, as far as I knew. You’re not allowed to fish, so I think we called it “Blooms” to make it slightly more romantic than “No Fishing,” but I did have a slightly cheeky sense of 900 fishing rods. But I’m always interested in how materials come together, and how it might look in the day and night. It will be a very different presence in the day than in the night. It’s always a risk. You never know quite what you’re going to get, but we do test our pieces as much as we can to get the visual effect.

Restless FakirYou'll also have some pieces at Lisa Sette Gallery. Tell me about those.
Well, Lisa’s lovely. I was thrilled to be able to exhibit there because I really love the work she was exhibiting. On the fly-in visit, I was lucky enough to get to meet her and to see the sort of work that she put on... I’m doing some of my latest pieces. They’re to do with Morse Code, and I’ve been working on these projection ideas where we literally take Morse Code and then it’s taken into a projection, into a visual format. I’m taking equations of photosynthesis and poetry and all sorts of things and making a visual equivalent of an idea that I’ve had in mind. These are very new pieces for me, so she’s been great to allow me to show them there. And there are some other three-dimension pieces, construction pieces, as well. We’ve got probably four or five pieces altogether in there. It’ll be nice to have four or five pieces, in a nice space. It’s a lovely gallery. And hopefully, people will enioy them.

Artist events and exhibition info:
Bruce Munro will give a free talk on his art at 7 p.m., October 1 at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA). Admission is free. Visit to RSVP. “Ferryman's Crossing” opens at SMoCA on October 3, and remains on exhibit through April 24, 2016. Admission prices vary.

“Blooms” will be visible at Scottsdale Waterfront beginning in early November, and will serve as the featured artwork during Scottsdale Public Art's Canal Convergence event, February 25-28, 2016. The installation will be on view through March 2016.

“Bruce Munro: Sonoran Light,” featuring eight large-scale installations including “Field of Light” and “Water-Towers,” opens at Desert Botanical Garden on November 20, with a reception from 7-10 p.m. $85. General admission for the exhibit – which runs through May 8, 2016 – costs $25 for a nighttime pass, $30 for a day/night pass.

A handful of Munro works, including “Language and Light” and “Restless Fakir,” will be on exhibit at Lisa Sette Gallery from November 7, 2015 until January 2, 2016. Admission is free.

For more information on all exhibits, visit