The Wildflower Center Is Planting a Field of Light

There’s plenty to see sprawled across the fields of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center nearly year round: pollinators flitting about native wildflowers, children running around the garden, and colorful buds peeking from the soil. But in the fall, something unexpected will be taking root in the fields: 28,000 solar-powered, fiber-optic dandelion-like light pods spread among the flowers and grasses.  

British artist Bruce Munro is bringing his latest “Field of Light” installation to the center’s arboretum, opening Sept. 9 and running through December 2022. It’s a first for the Wildflower Center—it’s hosted art installations in the past such as Fortlandia, the annual exhibition of manmade hideouts, but never something of this scale.  

Munro is often influenced by nature. In the early 1990s, he first conceptualized “Field of Light” while camping at Uluru in Australia with his now-wife, imagining a field that could bloom at night. Since 2004, he’s created dozens of “fields” using thousands of individual lights placed in patterns to interact with the topography of each chosen site. 

“Field of Light” at the Wildflower Center has been in development for almost two years, the result of a collaboration between Austin-based C3 Presents and the Wildflower Center. Dawn Hewitt, the center’s director of operations, and Sam Elkin of C3 approached Munro to see if he’d be interested in showing his work at the arboretum after Elkin saw his “Field of Light” in Paso Robles, California. He agreed to create a custom installation for the Wildflower Center. 

“Every iteration of the ‘Field of Light’ is customized to the space it inhabits,” Munro says. “Art changes spaces as much as the spaces change the nature of the art. This is one of the great joys and discoveries when creating [each] installation.” 

To Hewitt, bringing Munro’s work to Austin felt like a natural partnership, considering how he celebrates the land that his installations occupy. She also visited Pasa Robles and saw how Munro’s “Field of Light” there could work wonderfully in Austin.  

“One of the most beautiful things about it is that it changes your perspective of a space in two ways,” Hewitt says. “First of all, it creates like this topography of light, so you can really see how the land changes in elevation and moves. Then you have that layer of being able to experience that space at night that you wouldn’t otherwise have.” 

Over four weeks in August, dozens of volunteers placed each light pod into the soil based on instructions from Munro and representatives from his studio. When finished, the solar-powered and color-changing light pods mimic root systems and the topography of the area. 

Keeping in line with the Wildflower Center’s mission of sustainability and land stewardship, Hewitt says the installation will have minimal impact on the environment. All the pods are solar-powered and installed with a small hole in the soil. The low lumen pods won’t interfere with migratory bird travels either, as it’ll be “lights out” at 11 p.m. Visitors will be confined to the center’s trails, which means they’ll be off the grass and plants in the fields. Plus, a portion of ticket sales will go toward supporting the Wildflower Center. Hewitt is hoping this new perspective of the Wildflower Center will get frequent and new visitors to think more about land stewardship in their own lives.  

“We want to appeal to a wide number of people, and I think sometimes art can be that opening,” Hewitt says. “To have someone come here, who’s never heard of the Wildflower Center before, who’s maybe not an avid gardener … maybe this is the starting point for them to start thinking about nature, start thinking about climate, start thinking about all of those things that lead them to be a bigger participant in what we’re doing and what our mission is.” 

Munro’s installation is also highlighting one of his own missions as an artist: bringing together art and nature in already beautiful and beloved spaces.  

 “One of the things I hope ‘Field of Light’ does is bring people together and make them more aware of each other and also the environment,” Munro told the Wildflower Center. “I think when you combine a manmade art installation with beautiful nature, it’s going to be a winning combination.” 

“Field of Light” had an effect even before its opening. Planning the project has given Hewitt a new appreciation for the place she sees almost daily. Knowing that—and with the attention the installation will bring to the arboretum—she’s hoping visitors leave with more admiration for the land we all inhabit.  

 “That’s a big part of art, giving you a new perspective on something,” Hewitt says. “And I think that this installation is definitely going to do that for people.” 

CREDITS: Serena Munro; Mark Pickthall


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