If you ever need time to get away from the confines of campus, reflect on a stressful day or cool down after doing poorly on an exam, then Olbrich Botanical Gardens will offer you the serenity for which you’re longing.

According to their website, Olbrich Botanical Gardens, owned and operated by the City of Madison Parks Division and the non-profit Olbrich Botanical Society, “will be a locally treasured and globally renowned source of beauty and education celebrating the importance of plants in a sustainable world.”

Olbrich focuses on creating, conserving and interpreting the gardens and display of plants, and serves as an educational and enjoyable public space for those living in or visiting the Midwest.

The gardens have a connection to the University of Wisconsin, as the Thai Pavilion was given as a gift to the university from the Thai government and the Thai chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association, Katy Plantenberg, public relations & marketing manager at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, said.

Courtesy of S. Photography

In comparison to other U.S. colleges/universities, UW has one of the largest populations of Thai students. Since there wasn’t enough space on campus, Olbrich welcomed the pavilion with open arms.

Olbrich was chosen as the site for the pavilion because of the surrounding gardens and its proximity to water, a significant source in Thailand as it insinuates health and prosperity. This Thai Pavilion is the only one of its kind located in the U.S. It is also the only one outside of Thailand enclosed by gardens.

From Aug. 29 to Oct. 7, Olbrich is showcasing their annual exhibit GLEAM, Art in a New Light, which features local, national and international artists who create light-based installations throughout the 16-acre outdoor gardens.

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Olbrich’s inspiration for GLEAM was to create an event for people to enjoy the gardens during the fall — the most beautiful time of the year, yet also the time when attendance declines rapidly, Plantenberg said.

As stated on the flyer, the GLEAM exhibit leads visitors “through dimly lit pathways, encountering strange and surprising forms that pulse and shimmer in the night around every corner.” GLEAM illuminates the gardens in a completely different light than during the day. Visiting the gardens at nighttime is a new and captivating experience.

An example of one of the installations featured in the exhibit is “Constellations,” created by artists Esteban Garcia and Maxwell Carlson from Lafayette, Indiana. “Constellations” is concentrated on the interactions between software and light by using video-mapped mirrors to emphasize the “immediate environment, the physical and the mystical experiences which may arise from the combination of shapes, light and time.”

Bystanders gather around one of many GLEAM installations.
Courtesy of S. Photography

Another installation, “Lasing Nang Talung” by artist Mike Gould from Jackson, Michigan, portrays a mixture of traditional Thai shadow puppets and futuristic laser Neo-Op art. Shadow images of the puppets appear on a rear-projection screen. “The traditional light source is replaced with a laser lumia, the use of light patterns as an expressive art form.”

“Reincarnature,” created by artists Benjamin Smith and Riley Hays from Madison allows visitors to experience the blooming of a butterfly. The installation is “an immersive sound and light odyssey inside two chrysalises,” where you can interact with various sounds, colors and visuals that “paint reflective surfaces with a texture glow.”

On Saturday, I, along with one of my friends, visited Olbrich for the first time. We were shocked at the beautiful surroundings — from the greenery to the wild insects, butterflies and vibrant flowers, to the unique sculptures and the bridge looking over the area of water. It felt as if we were exploring through a maze in the forest.

We noticed many family visitors, typically parents with young children, walking through the beautiful gardens in the quiet, yet welcoming atmosphere. The only worry you may have when visiting Olbrich is getting lost in the complicated maze of greenery and nature!

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Other than that, the awe-inspiring site acts as a distraction from the endless thoughts cluttering your mind.

Though Olbrich is not located on campus or in downtown Madison, it’s a wonderful and low-cost place for students to visit either during the day or at night. Plantenberg said it’s a great spot for a first date, or just to wander, explore and take a walk through the maze-like path surrounded by wildlife.

“The Olbrich is on a bus line, so if you don’t have a car, the bus stops right out front,” Platenberg said.

Before the exhibit closes, make time in your hectic student schedule to explore the wonders GLEAM has to offer at Olbrich Botanical Gardens.