Just in time for northern Australia’s wet season, a groundbreaking outdoor exhibition is lighting up the city of Darwin.
When British-born contemporary artist Bruce Munro first came to the Top End of Australia in 1992, he was chasing what’s known as the “green flash”—a quick fleck of emerald light that sometimes occurs just as the sun drops over the horizon.
He wasn’t able to capture it back then, but Munro has recently returned to Darwin, the balmy seaside capital of the Northern Territory, and this time he’s brought the green flash with him as part of his first-ever citywide exhibition, Bruce Munro: Tropical Light.
Best known for creating immersive light-based installations—most notably Field of Light, an ongoing display of 50,000 luminous bulbs planted in the desert near Uluru—Munro spent eight years living and traveling around Australia in his youth, an experience that would shape his artistic approach and inform his later work. His third Australian showcase takes its cues from his first encounter with Darwin at the end of a wet season camping trip, along with more recent visits over an 18-month period.
Running nightly from 7–10 p.m until April 30, Tropical Light encompasses eight large-scale illuminated sculptures dotted along a 2.5-kilometer walking route through Darwin’s city center. Every piece is distinctly Northern Territorian, inspired by Munro’s obvious affection for and connection to the region.
Take Green Flash. Set amid the ruins of Darwin’s cyclone-ravaged old Town Hall, it’s a giant geodesic sphere that bristles with 1,820 plastic bottles, each one lit by a single fiber-optic cable. The glowing orb slowly progresses through a series of colors representing a typical Top End sunset, including a brief burst of green once every 15 minutes.
A few paces away in Bennett Park, Telegraph Rose comprises 700 radiant fishing rods laid out in the form of the Northern Territory’s floral emblem, the Sturt’s desert rose. Every 15 minutes, the rods flash in time to the sound of the first international Morse code message to reach Australia by telegraph, a breakthrough that occurred right here in Darwin in 1872.
Another highlight is Gathering of the Clans, meant as a quirky tribute to Australia’s native cockatoos. The birds are interpreted as color-coded fluorescent pegs fastened to a series of rotary clotheslines at Civic Park.
Everywhere you look on the route, there is something brilliant vying for your attention. Thirty colorful towers of illuminated water bottles perch along the seawall running south from the Darwin Convention Center. A “light shower” of 30,000 fiber-optic droplets suspended from canopies around the nearby Wave Lagoon celebrates the wet season. A sea of stylized spider lilies spreads across a manicured lawn by the water’s edge.
Like Darwin itself, Tropical Light is beautiful yet unpretentious. The exhibition has been designed to be freely accessible to all visitors, with maps, details on each of the pieces, and an audio guide available for download online.
Although the wet summer months tend to draw fewer tourists to the Northern Territory, there are plenty of other things to do around Darwin while waiting for Tropical Light to flicker on. This is the best time of year to go fishing for barramundi; the billabongs are brimming with wildlife; and the skies regularly light up with electrical storms that draw weather buffs from around the globe. And if you’re really lucky, you might just catch the green flash at sunset.
More information here.
This article originally appeared in the December 2019/January 2020 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Come Rain, Come Shine”).