Of the many great things that come with living in Austin, wildflowers are perhaps the grandest, and without any cost beyond preservation. All of Texas appreciates these blooms, and the city’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas serves at the state’s official botanical garden and arboretum.
This fall, an expansive art installation will unfurl itself across the Wildflower Center’s landscape. The work is so fit for Austin, it’s almost surprising it’s already an international art piece.
On September 9, 28,000 glowing “flowers” will bloom across 16 acres as the Field of Light, produced in collaboration with C3 Presents, comes to life. Like all flowers, they get their energy from the sun, but instead of growing, the little fiber-optic bulbs emit colored light while swaying in the breeze. Photos of previous installations show rolling hills covered in these flowers, which look like real dandelions at a glance during the day and become an ethereal display of faux-bioluminescence once the sun goes down.
Closer up, the stems’ origins become clearer: Tubes drape across the ground connecting each to a power source, borrowing the birds eye effect of seeing city centers from an airplane. Color groupings resemble real wildflowers, which tend to grow in patches. Although the effect is mostly about the wider views, it’s a technological marvel that is exciting up-close, and meant to inspire emotion and a feeling of “shared existence, and of being part of life’s essential pattern,” according to project materials.
“Austin is such a unique destination that embodies many of the core values of this installation,” says the artist, Bruce Munro, on the site-specific website. “My hope is that the Field of Light installation will inspire visitors to contemplate a kinder and more connected world. The Wildflower Center is the ideal venue for this exhibition simply because it brings people, art, and nature together.“
Munro, a London-born artist with 30 years of experience, was inspired to build Field of Light in 1992 while visiting Uluru, or Ayers Rock, in Australia. He notes in his personal timeline that it would “bloom at night like dormant desert seeds responding to rain.” By 2003, Munro was experimenting in his yard, executing a commission in a department store window display, and finally developing the first iteration of the full project at Victoria & Albert Museum’s Pirelli Garden in London.
Since then, Munro has shown the installation elsewhere in England, Scotland, Mexico, its original Australian inspiration at Uluru, and more. It even made a stop in Houston at Discovery Green in 2014 and 2015. This particular iteration contained 4,500 stems and took 200 hours to install, reported CultureMap Houston. It’s particularly well-known in Paso Robles, California, which offers the largest and most recent work in the series until now, at 15 acres and 58,800 flowers. This is where C3 Presents initially learned of the artwork, and recognized its innate potential Austin-ness.
Tickets for the Austin installation — open from September 9 through December 2022 — go on sale in July, with a portion of proceeds going to the Wildflower Center. For more information, visit fieldoflightaustin.com.