The story behind Uluru's stunning 'Field of Light'

Artist Bruce Munro’s Uluru installation brings a mesmerising glow to Australia’s Red Centre - here's how it all happened.

Sunset on iconic Uluru / Ayers Rock landscapes, the world's largest monolith, in the Northern Territory, Australia
  • Larissa Dubecki
    Main image: Field of Light, Uluru, Bruce Munro 2016 | Photo by: Mark Pickthall
  • June 2018

It’s the subtle pink glow that first catches the eye. As the sun recedes across the desert, the first sparks of colour shyly emerge from the land beneath Uluru, slowly growing in strength and power. It’s soon followed by a cascade of colour: pale blues, deep violets, raw ochre and gentle whites that shimmer and recede.

The night sky above Uluru is mesmeric and seemingly endless. Uncorrupted by city lights and pollutants, its expression of the infinite has long been a drawcard for visitors to the arid centre of Australia. Until December 2020, it will be mirrored by a field of lights softly erupting from the desert landscape.

A beautiful landscapes with Field of Light at Ayers Rock / Uluru, Australia has thousands of coloured lights
Field of Light, Uluru, Bruce Munro 2016 | Photo by: Mark Pickthall

Coming home

Field of Light is an immersive installation that represents a homecoming of sorts for its English creator. In 1992 Bruce Munro had been living in Australia for eight years and decided to visit Uluru – driving a beaten-up Toyota Corona he bought for 1500 AUD – on his Australian “swan song”. Overwhelmed by its beauty, he scribbled the idea for a light installation in a notebook, an idea that a decade later first took form in a field behind his home in south-west England. Rather than announce it with a grand launch, he left people to discover it for themselves. “It caught on. We had people turn up in our field. A woman burst into tears and gave me a hug. It was a human reaction, and very important.”

A man standing on landscape field of light, red sky Uluru illuminated in the
Field of Light, Uluru, Bruce Munro 2016 | Photo by: Mark Pickthall

Bruce has worked with light as his medium ever since and now has returned to the birthplace of an idea that founded his international reputation as an artist.

The logistics of the operation are dizzying: 50,000 acrylic light stems, each individually wrapped, were flown in from Bruce’s English workshop. Not a single one was broken on the long journey, he reports with happy amazement. It took 40 volunteers six weeks to “plant’’ them in the red desert sand. It’s the largest installation Bruce has undertaken, and the first time he has relied on solar energy to power his work.

A man standing on the middle of land scape fiel of lighs
Field of Light, Uluru, Bruce Munro 2016 | Photo by: Mark Pickthall

Lighting up the dark

From above, the Field of Light – an area roughly the equivalent of nine football fields – looks like a Persian carpet, but venture down into its meandering pathways and it resembles not so much a static work of art as a living thing, where frosted-glass orbs on delicate stems are joined by their roots – really kilometres of oddly organic-looking fibre-optic cable that loops wildly across the ground.

Bruce calls the work, blessed by the Anangu people, the area’s traditional owners, an expression of joy; “an interpretation of this wonderful place.”

He’s no anti-intellectual, but Bruce insists Field of Light is better understood as a feeling rather than an idea. “I’m not clever enough for all that,’’ he jokes. “Art is about getting into the feeling of things. Working with light – there’s just something very poetic about it.”

Sunset on iconic Uluru / Ayers Rock landscapes, field of lights
Field of Light, Uluru, Bruce Munro 2016 | Photo by: Mark Pickthall

Visitors can experience Field of Light at dusk or sunrise, when the ancient rock asserts itself again over the land and the field fades to white. The ephemeral nature of his work, Bruce says, is really its point.

“There’s no point trying to make art permanent. Even Uluru in the bigger scale of things is a small amount of time.”

As a spectacle, the Field of Light is arresting; as art it is genuinely moving. Walking through the field itself is joyous, even tear-jerking, although Bruce is typically humble: “I got a feeling as a young bloke and that inspired a piece of work, and I’m passing it on.”

Larissa Dubecki was a guest of Voyages Ayers Rock Resort

Field of Light opens in new window is at Uluru until 31 December, 2020.