Sure it’s a bumper wildflower season in WA, but this is something else. On Albany’s Mount Clarence, a vast crop of spherical “blooms” has appeared beneath the gum trees. There’s 16,000 of them, and they’re at their most spectacular come nightfall.
This is Field of Light: Avenue of Honour, a light installation by UK artist Bruce Munro. It’s the latest iteration of the Field of Light spectacle – an alchemy of fibre optics, frosted glass and acrylic stems – that was first inspired by travels at Uluru, and has made various site-specific appearances around the world since 2004.
For the Albany installation, the poignancy ratchets up a notch. This was the last glimpse of home turf for the Australian and New Zealand troops who departed on the convoy of ships from Albany in 1914, headed for the battlegrounds of the First World War. Commissioned by FORM and the City of Albany, Field of Light: Avenue of Honour is central to the commemorative events for Albany in this, the 100-year anniversary of the end of the war.
When searching for the right site to plant his arsenal of lights, the Avenue of Honour on Mount Clarence revealed itself to Bruce Munro as a frontrunner.
“It’s a beautiful avenue of trees, with memorial plaques in the ground bearing soldiers’ names,” says Munro. “In a way these glass spheres are like flowers growing from their graves, honouring the sacrifice they made.”
The installation spans 350 metres along Albany’s Apex Drive. Munro’s colour scheme of green, gold and white represents the wattle and the kowhai: the national flowers of Australia and New Zealand, respectively. A night drive or wander (there’s a figure-eight pathway) offers the best viewing, but it shouldn’t be thought of as an entirely after-dark proposition.
“I think of light as a 24-hour thing,” says Munro. “When the sunlight hits the frosted glass it sort of glows, and there’s an interplay between shadow and light.”
Munro knows a thing or two about light, having got involved with the craft while working in Australia in his thirties. His travels to remote Australia were further inspiration.
“It was in Uluru that I first had a sense that this was the kind of art I wanted to make,” he says. “If I was a better painter I might have painted. But rather than reaching for the paint brushes, I looked at the energy coming through the floor of the landscape and thought, ‘How do you express those feelings?’ I had this idea to do a light installation. Somebody told me I’d never do it, so I just thought, ‘Bloody hell, I’m going to do it’. It took 12 years to come to fruition, but I haven’t looked back.”
A sucker for nature, Munro says he’s trying to communicate its power and scale.
“I don’t want to sound bonkers, but nature has a way of levelling you,” he says. “I’m fascinated by how landscape has the power to bring us back to that pristine spirit that humanity has.”
By grounding his installations in nature, he hopes to enhance that feeling.
“Field of Light brings silence with it,” he says. “You become more aware of the wind in the trees, or the raw nature. You’re silently just part of it.”
And in the case of the Albany installation, there’s the added gravitas of the losses of war. At pains to commemorate lost lives rather than celebrate war, the artist is shooting for a mix of beauty and reflection.
“Those young people were spirits themselves,” he says. “Their lives were squandered, needlessly lost, but they’re represented here, glowing for us to see and remember.”
Field of Light: Avenue of Honour opens on October 4 and runs until Anzac Day 2019. Entry is free.