Sensorio Paso Robles Art on a Grand Scale
By Robert Bernstein
Sensorio Paso Robles is a work of art on a grand scale. Artist Bruce Munro has transformed the rolling hills of Paso Robles with an array of 58,800 stemmed spheres lit by fiber optics. And powered with solar energy. The full title is "Field of Light at Sensorio".
If you are familiar with the artist Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude you have some idea of the scale of this piece.
The installation was originally scheduled to close at the end of 2019, but it has been extended at least twice due to popular demand. It is currently scheduled to close at the end of June this year.
I strongly recommend getting tickets at least a few weeks in advance. It is currently open Thursday through Sunday evenings. Your ticket guarantees an entry time, but after you enter you are welcome to stay until they close a few hours later. If you don't reserve far enough in advance you probably can still get in, but you will get a later entry time and you will have less time to enjoy the experience.
I was eager to enter as early as possible while there was still a glow of light in the sky. Here you can see why this is such a beautiful time to experience this dramatic scene:
When it gets fully dark it is hard to even judge the scale of the scene. What is impressive is that the scale feels vast and boundless. Paths wander around and through the rolling hills covering about a mile or so of total walking distance. Here is a view from one high point:
Here is another panoramic view that also shows some individual fiber-lit globes close up:
There is a vast array of control units that gently modify the colors of the glowing orbs in complex patterns. At times the change is so slow and subtle that you can miss the change. At other times you can see patterns sweep across the entire landscape.
If you look at my photos you will see some that were taken in sequence from the same spot. You can see the change from one photo to the next.
Here are two videos that show the changes:
One thing that was a bit unsettling: Very thorough security when you enter that felt like you were entering an airport boarding area. It is not entirely clear what they were looking for. But you are not allowed to bring any food or beverages or selfie sticks. Allow time to get through this security process.
We opted for the VIP tickets which cost quite a lot more than the regular tickets. But this did expedite the entry search process. And we were treated to pre-made dinner packages served on a VIP terrace. The terrace offered the highest view point and there was a fire to warm yourself.
Not many people opted for the VIP package, so after awhile they started letting everyone in who wanted entry. For non-VIP visitors there are other food and beverage choices available as well.
There are plenty of staff people on hand all around the landscape. They were friendly, but they mostly seemed to be there to make sure people stayed on the walkways and obeyed other rules. One rule to note: No flash photography. This made good sense as the lighting is so calm and subtle that flashes of light would be quite distracting. Most people followed the rule.
I was hoping to talk to someone who could explain more about the art itself. I was a bit disappointed at how little the staff people knew about how the lights were controlled. One staff person said she had been there for a month or so before she even noticed that the lights changed at all!
It seemed that the local controllers controlled perhaps a hundred lights through fiber optics. But it also seemed that there were much longer range coordinations of the patterns. That is what I really would like to understand better. We spent hours there and I never quite grasped the patterns that we were seeing. Yes, it is art. But part of appreciating a work of art is understanding dimensions of the creation that may not be obvious.
Be aware that it gets cold out there in the evening. Be sure to bundle up with plenty of layers. Long underwear and a knit hat will keep you cozy if you want to spend a long time out there.
I very much encourage people to make the excursion to enjoy this unique experience. We stayed overnight in Paso Robles after our visit to make it as relaxing as possible.
Here is the Sensorio Paso Robles web site where you can get more information and buy tickets: https://www.sensoriopaso.com/