This is a great collaboration between an installation artist called Richard Box and Bristol University’s physics department.
He collected 1,301 fluorescent tubes, the sort you see in municipal buildings every day. He then planted them 6 inches into the ground under an overhead power line beside the M4 in Bristol and showed the otherwise unnoticed electrical field that engulfs us every day. You can see the effect in the image below.

Beautiful, but pretty scary

There is no power supplied directly to the tubes. They light up due to the electromagnetic field that surrounds the pylons (or, more accurately, the cables that they support). Which I reckon is pretty worrying.

He first experimented with the phenomenon (as far as I can determine) in about 2000. Here’s a snippet from a Bristol University press release:

Making light of physics
Nick Riddle
“On certain nights in the past couple of years, at the top of a hill near Skenfrith in Wales, unwary walkers close to the pylons have been confronted with an unsettling sight: a solitary, quiet glowing brain, complete with spine, suspended just above the ground.
This apparition is the work of Richard Box, Artist in Residence in the Department of Physics, and has its origins in a rumour about overhead power lines. ‘So I jumped into a van with some bulbs, found some pylons, and tried it. And they lit up.’”

But what’s really odd is that I remember driving down to Birmingham to watch Scotland play against Switzerland in 1996 at the Euro Championships. I’ll always remember it as that game was the only game we scored a goal in at the Championships (Ally McCoist, in the 36th minute and it was a beauty), and then England managed to let the Dutch score right at the death, so that England won 4-1, to put us out and the Dutch through. Thanks lads.
Anyway, I remember driving along the motorway out of Birmingham after the game and seeing a cross made out of fluorescent tubes under one of the main pylon lines at the side of road. I’m not sure if it was by the same artist, but it’s something I’ve found fascinating since.
There’s a great article on the pureenergysystems website, which explains what’s going on as the tubes light up. Here’s a little of what they know:
“Wireless transmission (intentional) and fluorescent bulbs were both invented by Nikola Tesla.
The fluorescent bulbs of Richard Box’s display, “planted” in the ground to pick up “waste emissions from the overhead power lines”, are in effect acting as wireless transformers as well, providing a graphic depiction of a phenomenon that could actually shed additional light on the mode of action of these other energy devices.”

Nikola Tesla was himself a hugely interesting man, who seemed to have a bit of an obsession with electricity. Here you can see the effects of a Tesla coil, which generates millions of volts.

Don't try this at home

If you’ve got a bit of time, visit YouTube and watch (and hear) the phenomenon.

The folk at pure energy systems also noticed when they went to see ‘Field’ that:
“As you walk up to the tubes, which are buried in the ground by about 6 inches, the tubes go out. When you move away they light up again. This is because your body is a better conductor of the electromagnetic radiation than the air is, so your body shorts out this potential to the ground.”

Beautiful and mesmeric.
I’m not sure if it’s still there, but I visit Bristol every November, so I’ll do some hunting and let you know.