Arts & Culture

Take a Walk with the Artist behind Brookgreen Gardens’ Fantastical New Light Show

Bruce Munro’s landmark exhibition of light and sound opens this week at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina

Photo: Anna Hyatt Huntington

The Great Dane Gates at Brookgreen Gardens.
photo: Courtesy Brookgreen Gardens
Bruce Munro.

Some who wander set out to get lost. The British artist Bruce Munro does that sometimes—lets his feet and mind roam—and then, inspired, he creates massive bathed-in-light art installations that have won him devotion from art and outdoors lovers the world over. This week at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina, a sprawling exhibition of the artist’s light-and-sound sculptures, Bruce Munro at Brookgreen: Southern Light, opens.

“Time is very precious,” Munro says over the phone (he lives in England), “and I want to spend my time thinking about and making things that are going to bring a sense of joy, to create things that are about the brighter side of human existence.”

photo: Christopher John
Reflections by Bruce Munro.

Munro mentally retraces his footsteps at Brookgreen Gardens, the five-hundred-acre sculpture-filled greenspace that sits between Myrtle Beach and Pawley’s Island and is currently abloom with foxglove, roses, and jasmine. He visited last year while planning the installation. “It’s almost like a series of exterior rooms; you go from one garden space to another,” Munro says. “But then, there’s this wild pass of the garden that goes beyond the wall out onto a flood plain, among long grasses. There’s a wildness out there, a tension, something magical, like out of a book.” He envisioned moving colors swathing the arboretum, and Field of Light is his vision realized: 11,700 stems of light planted in the grass.

photo: Christopher John
Fireflies by Bruce Munro.

These titles and numbers hardly help—this art must be experienced in person, in the evening—but other installations include Fireflies, for which six hundred sprigs of light bend and jump along an oak allée; Time and Again, featuring thirty-seven stainless steel lilies blooming in a field; Water-Towers, with its ten pillars flaring up from the grass with fiber optics and sound; and Hive, which presents 1,448 bee-inspired hexagons glowing amid ancient bricks.

photo: Christopher John
Time and Again by Bruce Munro.

“And as I was walking along the wall, like the ramparts of a castle,” Munro says, “I was looking over at this wild meadow and wondering what would be hiding in there—it reminded me of a watering hole in Africa with a choir of frogs.” And so was born the installation Okonjima Choral Society, an assemblage of toad-like flashing eyes, tiny little robot nubs that croak and glow in the night. “My frogs,” Munro says, “well they’re on holiday in South Carolina, and they’re having a bit of a sing-song.”

photo: Christopher John
Okonjima Choral Society by Bruce Munro is an ode to a chorus of frogs.

In total, seven large-scale works of art will envelop the garden in sound and sight. And despite the current Covid-19 situation, Munro believes there is a meaningful opportunity to connect with one another, and nature, through art right now. “When I see a beautiful film, or read a great book, or eat some lovely food, or see a beautiful landscape, that is somebody else passing me a gift,” Munro says. “And I guess that’s what we should all be doing, sharing how we see beauty or something wonderful in the everyday.” (On its website, the garden asks that visitors follow CDC recommendations of maintaining social distance, not congregating in groups of more than three people, and covering their faces with cloth face masks. Staff members will stagger entry to the exhibit.) 

Southern Light opens May 15 and runs through September 12. Get the full schedule and ticket information here.