Deep within Australia’s vast desert, a tremendous tower of rock has been forming for some 600 million years. For Aborigines, Uluru is sacred, full of ancestral spirits and tales of the past. For tourists, it is a place of historical intrigue and natural beauty. However, for British artist Bruce Munro, this ancient monolith has become the backdrop for his latest work of art. As night falls across the Red Centre, Field of Light comes to life, with 50,000 flower-like lights glowing against the darkness.
View image of 50,000 glowing lights make up Bruce Munro's Field of Light (Credit: Credit: Mark Pickthall)
Since its first iteration in 2004, Field of Light has travelled to many different locations across the globe. However, the concept was first conceived at the foot of Uluru during a camping trip in 1992.
“I had this kind of weird experience,” Munro said. “I just felt that there was some sense of power in the landscape. I noticed that when camping on the ground, you can almost feel the heat of the sun radiating back out towards the sky…. It’s odd, because normally a desert space really drains you, but at Uluru, you just felt incredibly alive. I carry this sketchbook around with me wherever I go, so I wrote down what I had felt there and a thought that had come to me: how amazing would it be to have this whole landscape full of light?”
View image of Field of Light in Uluru will be open until 31 March, 2017 (Credit: Credit: Mark Pickthall)
For more than a decade, however, that thought remained as scribbles on a page. It was only after the intervening years of parenthood, mortgages and moving houses were over that Munro could finally turn his attention to a project 12 years in the making. Field of Light was first built thousands of miles from the fiery Australian desert, at Munro’s countryside home in Wiltshire, England.
“That idea had really got under my skin,” he said. “I just thought ‘Come on, I’ve got to get this out of my system’. So I gathered the materials together and stuck it in my field.”
View image of Before reaching Uluru, Field of Light was built in London, Edinburgh, and Tennessee (Credit: Credit: Mark Pickthall)
Since then, Munro has shaped and reshaped Field of Light for a diverse range of spaces: a shop front in London’s Harvey Nichols; St Andrews Square in central Edinburgh; the garden of Cheekwood Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. Yet it wasn’t until spring 2016 that the artist finally got the chance to see his vision come full circle.
It was like all my Christmases had come at once.
After hearing about Field of Light and its inspiration, Ray Stone, a representative at Australia’s Indigenous Land Corporation, gave Munro a call, asking if he would like to travel to Australia to discuss the possibility of installing Field of Light at the foot of Uluru.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Munro said, “It was like all my Christmases had come at once.”
Working together, Munro and the Indigenous Land Corporation tackled the logistics of transporting the 49,000sqm installation overseas and began talks with the local indigenous people straight away. They also ensured that the artwork did not impose upon the sacred land surrounding Uluru, keeping the cables above ground and using solar energy to power the installation.
“All I wanted people to understand was that this was how the land inspired me,” Munro said. “In a sense, Field of Light is my thank you to the land for making me feel so excited when I was there.”
View image of The 49,000 square metre light installation was transported 11,800 miles overseas (Credit: Credit: Mark Pickthall)
Field of Light is open until 31 March 2017, and with it Munro has one simple aim: “it sounds clichéd, but I just love to see people smile. If I can raise a smile, what more can I ask for?”
If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Earth, Culture, Capital, Travel and Autos, delivered to your inbox every Friday.