In his latest exhibition, "Light" at the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens in Rockford, Ill., British artist Bruce Munro is once again enchanting visitors with whimsical, fiber optic–illuminated forms made from recycled water bottles, fishing rods, glass spheres, and more. On view through Nov. 5, this eight-piece installation features some of the British artist’s most iconic works—including Field of Light and Water Towers—as well as two new site-specific pieces, Sun and Don’s Flamingos. “Part of the aim of these garden exhibitions is to get people who aren’t necessarily familiar with a garden to visit and experience such a beautiful place to be,” Munro said in an official statement. “I love the challenge presented to me by the Conservatory, of seeking out the balance that exists between contemporary art, landscapes, and architecture.”
Don’s Flamingos is an homage to American artist Don Featherstone (1936-2015), the creator of the iconic pink plastic flamingo. The installation is comprised of 52 flamingos covered in fluorescent acrylic beads, illuminated by eight 50W LED UV floodlights, with a background soundtrack of birds cackling. “I read an obituary in 2015 about Don Featherstone and I was reminded of the pink plastic one my father gave me as a child having returned from a business trip,” Munro says of his inspiration. “Don’s Flamingo’s is an homage piece to him.”
Another of the works Munro designed for the exhibition at the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens is Sun. Although Munro originally designed Sun—an updated version of his piece Beacon—to be suspended from single point in the Conservatory, its overall weight and size required that the plastic bottle orb rest on the floor, “as if a sun is rising on the horizon,” according to the exhibit description. Sun, which uses approximately 89,567 feet of fiber optics, is also reminiscent of the Rockford Park District’s logo of a sun singer.
The idea for the exhibition came about when Nicholas Conservatory facility manager Kelly Moore and her staff saw an Instagram post from the Atlanta Botanical Garden featuring their 2015 exhibit, “Bruce Munro: Light in the Garden.” Moore, wanting to create dynamic programming for the 6-year-old, 22-acre garden in Illinois, reached out to Munro, who ultimately opted to visit the site and, within six months, submitted a proposal for an installation. “Bruce takes the time to learn about the gardens and the people,” Moore says. “He finds ways [to] incorporate his artwork into the facility and the grounds to make people see it, no pun intended, in a new light.”
It took Munro’s studio, located in Wiltshire, England, 12 months to create and retrofit the pieces and—with the help of five studio technicians, four local art handlers, and 20 volunteers—more than 3,100 hours to install the works on site. Overall, the installation includes more than 360,000 feet of fiber optics and consumes 4,739 watts of electricity daily.
On display since June 3, the exhibit has attracted visitors from around the region and the country, with admission increasing by 75 percent during the first week.
This latest exhibition offers those unfamiliar with Munro’s work an introduction to this merging of light, sculpture, and landscape; for those who already know the artist’s work, it’s a chance to revisit this inventive use of illumination.