Culture capital Galway unveils 4-mile long lighting installation

a mountain covered in blue and green light
The massive light ‘artwork’ is by Finnish light artist Kari Kola and is called Savage Beauty. He used no fewer than 900 lighting fixtures from supplier GLP. Credit: Christopher Lund/John MacMahon

TO CELEBRATE Galway’s status as European Capital of Culture, the beautiful Connemara Mountains have been turned emerald green and sapphire blue in a spectacular lighting installation which stretches for four miles across the Irish countryside.

The massive light ‘artwork’ is by Finnish light artist Kari Kola and is called Savage Beauty. He used no fewer than 900 lighting fixtures from supplier GLP. 

With the illuminated area spanning 500 hectares (measuring around 4 miles wide and 700m high), this vast canvas is believed to be the biggest light art project ever created.

Kari Kola had originally been approached by Galway 2020’s creative director, Helen Marriage, back in February 2019. The artist told Lux: ‘Helen knew that I was working on really large-scale projects, with light and nature, and so she called me up.’

Two months later he was in the Emerald Isle for the first time to check potential sites, before fixing on the Connemara Mountains in October that year. 

‘I wanted to play with scale, and also with the two colours,’ he said. ‘There was a big valley through the mountains which I wanted to glow green, with the sides of the mountains in deep blue. Also, from the top overlooking the valley, I wanted to create a ‘roof’ of light with really strong blue beams.’

Kola specified 200 Fusion by GLP SuperNova SN70, a versatile RGBW fixture, which can function as RGBW flood, blinder, or strobe, with homogeneous, pixel-free output. 

To this he added 120 Chroma 40 RGBW high class washlights and a further 200 pieces of customised Chroma, along with many smaller units. 

All were IP65-rated to withstand the harsh weather that Ireland has to offer. 

‘I knew exactly what was required and had no concerns about the output as I have worked extensively with GLP products previously,’ he stated. 

That notoriously unpredictable climate and the remote location proved his biggest challenge. At the same time the combination of rain, wind, and cloud provided all the dynamics, layered onto the static landscape itself.

‘There was no road access, so we needed to use helicopters to drop the gear,’ he recalled. ;It was really extreme, working in the mountains in this kind of weather [high winds and heavy rain], with a tight timetable and no backups.’ 

The installation involved 11 generators and around 17 miles of cabling to link all of the fixtures.

Kari Kola puts the success of the project down to the amount of planning undertaken and the efforts of his 15-strong team, which included professional documentary makers. 

‘We also had six local sheep farmers, who knew how to work in the terrain, a boat crew for logistics, a three-man helicopter team, six electrician/generator guys, a local production team, and security.’

The only disappointment was that the original plan of presenting Savage Beauty over four days, leading up to St. Patrick’s Day on 17th March, with guided walks into the shimmering landscape, had to be abandoned in view of the spread of Covid-19. 

Thankfully, the festival was able to provide a specially created video as a consolation for all of the hard work done by Kari Kola and his team.

Other than this disappointment, he could scarcely have been happier. Summarising it he said it represented “one surreal picture” brought to life by ‘nature’s own dynamics’.