British artist, Bruce Munro is best known for immersive large-scale light-based installations inspired largely by his interest in shared human experience. For 40 years, he’s recorded his ideas and images in sketchbooks, and his delight in the world around him provides continuous inspiration. Brookgreen Gardens will host an exhibition of his work beginning in May. Versions of the mixed-media installation have popped up around the world since its debut at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2004, everywhere from Uluru, Australia, South Korea, Denmark, and the United Kingdom, to Houston, Nashville, and Columbus, Ohio.

“Brookgreen Gardens got in touch with us,” Bruce began when asked why Brookgreen was chosen as the only East Coast exhibition of his work. “It was a great honor to be asked. I love gardens, and when I first visited Brookgreen, I was struck by the way the art is presented. It’s a good place that puts people at their ease – I particularly like it when people can enjoy art without being scrutinized.”

The artist explained the process of creating the installations, saying, “I’m very responsive to space, and every space is unique – with a different climate, different flora and fauna, etc. It’s always very easy for me to find inspiration.” Continuing, he said, “In Brookgreen I feel like I am in a series of outdoor rooms – not all gardens have this feeling. It’s rather like going to a museum.”

Most readers will recognize the artist’s Field of Light installation, and Bruce talked about this spectacular artwork. “It’s a very important piece of work for me; it was the start of me working as an adult. I was living with my girlfriend (now wife) in Australia when the idea first landed in my sketch book – it was something I felt I needed to do, and it took me 12 years to complete.” Visitors to Brookgreen will experience Field of Light as 11,700 stems of light in softly moving colors covering the Arboretum.

“After the experience of creating Field of Light, it kept nagging at me that I needed to do other things,” Bruce continued, talking about the evolution of his work, and his incredible catalogue of light creations. “My work is very instinctive. The older I get the more I look at the world like I did as a child – not that my work is childish, but I am more in touch with the feeling behind the art. It is about shared human experience and connection.”

The Okonjima Choral Society installation consists of 2,000 “frogs” singing in unison behind the garden wall at the Rosen Carolina Terrace, accented by the pulses and rhythms of their illuminated “eyes.” “When I was walking around Brookgreen, I came to this wall – beyond it was wild territory,” Bruce said. “I liked the feeling of this area and the beautiful trees hanging with moss. There was a feeling of being on the edge of the wild.” He continued, telling me the story behind the piece. “My family and I took a holiday in Namibia, Africa, and I heard these frogs singing near a waterhole. The sound was mesmerizing. My newer works have a gentle humor like this one. It’s something wild that’s also safe.”

“I want to draw people in and stimulate their imagination,” this visionary artist began. “I love the fact that people walk around together in gardens — people have the perception gardens are boring, but they are truly the museums of tomorrow. I love the relationship between gardens and art; I feel it’s important for all of us to rediscover our physical roots and connect to the physical world. That’s what I hope to do with my art.”

“If people have a good time, if the pieces warm their hearts and bring a smile, if they are inspired to come back to Brookgreen Gardens, then we’ve done what we set out to achieve,” Bruce said thoughtfully. His father’s death 20 years ago was a huge watershed in Bruce’s life, and this great loss occurred before the artist was doing large scale light installations. “I treat all of my exhibitions as a very great honor. My father always encouraged me to follow my dreams. I feel very privileged to bring my ideas across the pond.”

Visit Bruce Munro at Brookgreen: Southern Lights beginning May 1st.
The exhibition will be open Wednesday-Saturday, 6-10 pm, through September 12th. For tickets and more information, visit www.brookgreen.org or call 843-235-6000.