Chris Fordham reports: Driving in the evening through rural Wiltshire on the way to a Light Show, I happened to glance across the road to see what appeared to be a large church or old outhouse with a number of hay bales covered in blue bags, lined up outside the entrance.
Not being from round these parts, or ever really having been that close to many hay bales for that matter, I had to do a double take, and it certainly made me question what it was exactly I knew about the countryside and what they got up to; after all this wasn’t a farm or field.
After we parked and started to walk toward the very same building, I realised this was, in fact, the Light Show. I prepared to be massively underwhelmed, but as it turned out I couldn’t have been more wrong!
The building we had passed was Messums Wiltshire, a multipurpose gallery and arts centre, set in a 13th century barn (reputed to be largest of its type in England). The work that we were here to see was that of Bruce Munro, in what is his largest UK solo exhibition.
Bruce Munro’s work takes ordinary and mundane materials such as hay bales, water bottles and CDs and invites people to look at them in a different way. Many works in the show are inspired by his time spent in Australia and refer directly to a memory, time or place, though not explicitly mentioned. It is through a process of repetition and ordering that his works become dramatic backdrops to mesmerising, mysterious and immersive displays that transcend time.
We arrived as the sun set over the fields beyond, giving the artwork ‘Moon Harvest’ a perfect backdrop. The hay bales took on a different aspect and became more alive as the light faded. As you walked past the pieces, the ethereal shapes came into focus on the bales, until all you could see was a scene of indistinct moons in a field, a piece that became more interesting longer you focused.
In the grounds of the old dairy you found yourself in a gently pulsating grass courtyard of light stems, transporting your inner self to somewhere between Alice in Wonderland, and a scene in the film Avatar. I found the whole experience strangely peaceful. Bruce has already used this ‘Field of Light’ in Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) in Australia’s red desert, which is the largest installation of this work.
Moving indoors, the barn presented C-Scales, ‘as a single response to the volume of the barn’. The effect is completely immersive, as drift away to the sound of sea, and birds (inspired by Barangaroo in Sydney, Australia). A shimmering carpet of CD’s and DVD’s make up the canvas for abstract visual sequences’ that reflect onto the barn walls and ceiling, making the whole experience truly captivating.
Bruce was kind enough to be interviewed, and I was really interested as to why it was so important for him to find an alternative function in these otherwise mundane materials that he often uses.
BM: Initially I used mundane objects/materials out of necessity because creating installations is an expensive business. One day whilst shopping I noticed a tower of PET water bottles in an aisle of a supermarket; they were similar in scale to structures that I was creating for an installation, but much less expensive ! This created an interest in using everyday objects for installations as well as drawing attention to the beauty of mundane objects
CF: Your use of light is quite emotive, what is the biggest influence for this aspect of your work ?
BM: A lot of my work is about expressing how I feel in a time and place. It took me a while (forty years) to appreciate that moments of clarity and feeling at one with the world was often inspired by the natural landscape. I grew up by the sea and have always found water to lighten my mood. I am instinctive by nature and have learnt to simply observe my conscious self .
CF: Are you ever approached to create architectural lighting designs ?
BM: Yes quite often as I started my career in lighting design in Sydney ( 1984) three years after completing a degree in fine arts at Bristol Poly . Unfortunately my painting skills were rather limited; luckily, light caught my imagination .
CF: When you are creating your light art what is the primary driving factor for you? What message is it that you are most interested in purveying ? They all seem quite harmonious?
BM: Soon after my father died in 1999 I decided that I had to give myself the opportunity to create my own work . This gradually happened over a number of years. As a youngster I felt that art was a rather self-indulgent activity. But soon after my pa died I realised that art was something to be shared .
My experience is that most people yearn to connect with their fellow human beings . I endeavour to create works that encourage this process .
CF: Thank you for your time, Bruce.