In Arts + Entertainment

Dazzling & Dramatic: Inside Darwin’s New Outdoor Light Exhibition

Darwin is in perpetual summer mode. It’s a place where winter attire is a rare requirement. But a noticeable change occurs when November 1 rolls around, and the wet season rains herald the start of tropical summer.

Dramatic thunderstorms bring welcome respite from the heat, and, at dusk, sunset lovers observe radiant golden colours as the sun dips into the watery horizon. It’s a time of the year when wildlife sneak away to begin mating and when the much-needed rains transform the dusty brown landscapes into pockets of fresh green and flowering colour.

And this year, the city has injected a slightly different variety of colour. But nature isn’t responsible. Rather, the acclaimed British installation artist Bruce Munro and six local artists are. Renowned for his immensely popular Field of Light at Uluru, Munro and the local artists have created Munro’s first city-wide outdoor exhibition Bruce Munro: Tropical Light.

Opened this past November 1 and on until April next year, the free exhibit will run for six months. Similar to how Munro’s unique style of art through light brought attention to Uluru, attracting more than 450,000 visitors to the Red Centre, Munro hopes Tropical Light will help bring visitors to the Top End during the typically quieter tropical summer season.

The outdoor exhibition trail meanders for 2.5 kilometres through the city’s CBD and waterfront precincts, showcasing eight artworks of varying size and light technique at designated points. Each piece connects along the ‘arts trail’ and is designed to be viewed at your own pace.

Stopping for a drink or a bite to eat at one of the many dining and wine establishments adds to the relaxing experience. 

Munro says he’s long had a love affair with the Northern Territory. “In 1992 I returned to Australia with my wife, Serina,” he says. “We were a young couple with a tent in the back of the car. When we saw Uluru it just blew me away. I’m a very pragmatic person and I just couldn’t understand why I felt so enlightened in this landscape.”

He says he drew ideas onto a sketchbook – ideas that have now become the unique installations of Tropical Light. “I was inspired by the stars at night-time, the distinct wildlife, and spectacular sunsets.”

When asked if he has a favourite installation, he says he doesn’t. But one that has significant meaning is Time and Again. The inspiration came to him when he was at Uluru, working on Field of Light, and hearing stories about time. “I learned that time for the Aboriginals present, past and future are all wrapped into one,” he says. “I was drawn to how differently we perceive time in our culture.”

The installation, a series of stainless-steel discs with radial clock faces, has infinity signs scattered throughout – Munro’s ‘shorthand’ for the present and future. Look very hard and you’ll also find impressions of the letter “C” representing the speed of light. “This contains our whole existence. We can’t go beyond that, well maybe we can, but not yet,” he adds with a laugh.

Munro admits he’s chased sunsets around the world attempting to capture the elusive ‘green flash,’ an optical phenomenon occurring at sunset (or sunrise). When the sun is almost entirely below the horizon, the barest edge of the sun appears to briefly change colour to green.

“The Green Flash installation harks back to fond memories of first seeing the sun sink into the sea in Darwin and trying to capture the elusive moment on my camera,” he says. Munro’s creation is made of 1,820 empty plastic bottles illuminated by a single fibre optic cable. Crowds wait patiently in front of the giant orb, in anticipation of the green flash. And be ready as it works its way through a sequence of colours representing a Top End sunset – the flash is quick.

Munro hopes the Darwin exhibition will create a positive legacy. “Art is a great way to draw people together, to start discussions, share opinions and ideas. It’s not just about installing disparate light ideas and installations,” he says. “This exhibition is about Darwin, connecting different parts of the city, and the community. Become part of the art and the art becomes part of you.”

(All images: Bruce Munro’s Tropical Light)

Published 15 November, 2019