In California’s wine country, a luminescent ‘super bloom’ brings the landscape to life at night

Bruce Munro's 'Field of Light' is a multi-acre art installation made up of 58,000 color-changing, fiber optic spheres

As I step onto the dirt pathway at twilight, I am surrounded by opaque glowing orbs on stalks; a field of pearly, luminescent flowers, some turning into shades of translucent pink. At first glance, the field appears dotted with snow.

While the super blooms in California may have faded in the hills and valleys, you can still witness this more unusual bloom in Paso Robles. The town, home to over 200 wineries in Central California, is hosting a 15-acre temporary art installation called Field of Light. If you arrive before sunset, you can see the ethereal landscape morph before your eyes. 

thousands of lights begin to glow at dusk
The field begins to glow at sunset. | Photo: Melissa Curtin
As the sun goes down, the field begins to glow
As the sun sets, the magic begins. | Photo: Serena Munro

I was hoping to really feel this experience with no human distractions, so I scurry solo away from other visitors. As night creeps in, the magic begins. The patchwork of changing colors become bolder with the full moon glowing overhead. I find myself wondering what this spectacle might look like from space. 

The shadowy silhouettes of the old oak trees scattered throughout the field offer a beautiful contrast to the surreal environment. Powered by solar, the 58,800 stemmed spheres—lit by fiber optics—illuminate the countryside in deep colors of red, orange, purple, green, blue, and bright pink. 

Behind the installation

Internationally-acclaimed British artist Bruce Munro created this whimsical, ever-changing sea of lights—comprised of spheres in the ground—in the California countryside. Part of a larger series of Field of Light installations across the globe, this is Munro’s largest work to date. The field is hosted by Sensorio, a new Paso Robles destination where art, technology, and nature intersect. Field of Light opened to the public on May 19, 2019 and will officially remain open until January 5, 2020. 

The field was constructed in a five-week period by 20 staff members and groups of volunteers who worked in one-hour shifts, five days per week, eight hours per day. The most difficult challenge about construction, the exhibit’s executive director Tracy Strann shares, was ensuring proper drainage from unusually heavy rain. 

Bruce Munro stands in front of the illuminated field of lights
Artist Bruce Munro was inspired by the desert blooms of Australia. | Photo: David Greer

Similar light field installations were created previously in other remote locations, like Uluru Rock in Australia and Munro’s home in Wiltshire, U.K. Involving 326 miles of optic fiber, the Australia iteration was met with instant acclaim, despite being situated in one of the world’s most remote locations. 

After Munro took a camping trip to the red desert center of Australia in 1992, he was struck by how deserts appear to be infertile until it rains and flowers bloom. Munro dreamt of a field of lights that, like dormant seeds in a dry desert, would quietly wait until darkness to bloom. Twelve years after that trip, Munro’s first Field of Light exhibit was created in 2004 in Wiltshire. 

thousands of lights speckle the dark field, in hues of ROYGBIV
From afar, the fiber-optic cables form a sea of color. | Photo: Melissa Curtin

Munro has a busy schedule ahead with future installations. “In October, we are opening Uluru after a complete refurbishment, and in November, [we open] an exhibition in Darwin, Australia. We are creating eight installations across the city,” he says. In December, Munro is showing his latest work at a private gallery in England, and in April 2020, an exhibit of seven installations will open in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. 

Art as something you feel

Munro comes home each week to find personal emails from visitors and fans who appreciate the art he produces and the experiences he builds. Like Munro, these fans understand that art is more than something that is hung on a wall to be sold, consumed, and left to collect dust; art—particularly art in the digital age—is experiential and ephemeral.

thousands un-illuminated fiber optic lights cover a field
The Field of Light at dusk, before the show begins. | Photo: Melissa Curtin
thousands of lights illuminated around a giant tree under a full moon
The lights transform the California wine country landscape. | Photo: Melissa Curtin

“These responses reinforce the idea that the Field of Light connects people to each other and the natural landscape. This mirrors the inspiration that created the installation all those years ago,” he says. ”The positive feelings of present moments are infinite; linking times past present and future. They are tangible expressions of the living spirit.”

One email from a fan included a poem, signed “Kobby,” that perfectly described what it’s like to experience the magic of Field of Light: “The ground strings and weaves / Luminescent waves / I come home to believe / That the magic is all in me.”

If you go

Field of Light will be on display at Sensorio Wednesdays through Sundays until January 5, 2020. It’s open from 7 to 11 p.m. Adult admission is $27 on Wednesday and Thursday and $30 Friday through Sunday. Tickets for children age 12 and under are $9 on Wednesday, $18 on Thursday and $19 Friday through Sunday. Children under age 2 get in for free. To learn more and reserve tickets, visit sensoriopaso.com or call (805) 226-4287.

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