Newtownards and the Global Rainbow

New York artist Yvette Mattern brought her international light exhibition to Scrabo Tower

Green is so last year. In 2012 the on-trend St Patrick’s Day reveler knows that it is all about the Roy G. Biv.

Don’t worry, that isn’t some hot new designer on the block that you should know about. It’s the mnemonic children use to learn the colours of the rainbow.

And a Global Rainbow was visible over the Strangford Lough every day this spring, from March 14-18. (Hopefully none of the more sodden celebrants went looking for a pot of gold at the end of it.)

The brainchild of New York artist Yvette Mattern, the Global Rainbow is a cutting-edge light installation which officially opened the Cultural Olympiad in Northern Ireland, after having visited Tyneside and Preston in February 2012. 

Global Rainbow consists of seven parallel laser light in each of the Roy G Biv colours. When switched on, the colourful rays can be seen for up to 200 kilometres.

Although the rainbow has in recent years become predominantly associated with the QUILTBAG cause, Mattern's rainbow is agenda free. It doesn't exclude, or include, any particular political or social meaning.

'I created the Global Rainbow to reach anyone who embraces its beauty and power,' Mattern explains. 'Whoever encounters the light installation, in whatever context, creates their own meaning.'

The installation premiered in New York on Martin Luthor King Day in 2009. It was sited on top of a Wall Street skyscraper, and the rainbow could be seen from the Brooklyn Bridge in the east to the Hudson River in the west. Since then Global Rainbow has visited Toulouse, Berlin, Utrecht, Nantes, Whitley Bay and Preston.

Mattern's wish-list for future Global Rainbow sites includes Jerusalem, the Ganges River and the Great Wall of China. Compared to that list, doesn't Scrabo Tower in Newtownards seem like small potatoes?

'Northern Ireland is a dream destination for me,' Mattern says. 'I was very happy to be invited to show the Global Rainbow here, and I would very much like to come back to do it in Belfast City itself. But Scrabo Tower is a stunning monument and allows for an amazing trajectory along Strangford Lough.'

Stunning, but also windy and a long way up to carry lasers and associated paraphrenalia. Luckily, Mattern says, while Global Rainbow does require trained technicians – provided by contemporary arts production agency amnio – the set-up for the installation was actually quite minimal.

'And once it is switched on,' she adds cheerfully. 'I can just enjoy those who come to view it and enjoy the rainbow itself.'

Every rainbow should have something at the end of it, of course, and instead of gold the Global Rainbow has the Cultural Olympiad. It was the opening event in Northern Ireland, and marked 100 days to go until the Northern Ireland festivities really kick off with the Peace One Day Festival in Derry~Londonderry on June 21.

Ruth MacKenzie, director of the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival, says that Global Rainbow is a great chance to 'enjoy a spectacular piece of free international art as part of the build-up to the London 2012 Festival'.

Amateur photographers from Northern Ireland were also being invited to capture the dramatic results for a photographic competition.

'Photographers will have any number of vantage points from which to take images of the rainbow, the best of which will be shown in an exhibition this June to mark the run up to the 2012 Olympic Games,' said Mayor of Ards, Councillor Mervyn Oswald.

Images courtesy of Nick Hutchinson from Portadown. Did you take any? Email them to, subject line 'Global Rainbow Pictures', and we will publish the pick of the bunch on this page.

Newtownards Global Rainbow