Ólafur Elíasson is a light artist. He is now using his experience with the matter to improve people’s lives by bringing light into their homes after dark without a public power connection.
Light is life. This is the underlying quest of the Danish-Icelandic artist Ólafur Elíasson. Among his most successful projects features a huge artificial sun called The Weather Project. In 2003 it was on display at Tate Modern and attracted two million visitors.
The large sun was received in various ways; some visitors stretched out on their backs and relaxed, others where rather irritated. For better or for worse, Elíasson achieved his goal to "bring people together" as he put it during his lecture at the International Year of Light event hosted by Zumtobel in Bregenz.
At the same time he introduced a further solar project, which is supposed to bring people together even closer; the Little Sun. This piece is a portable LED solar light launched in 2012, which Elíasson developed in cooperation with the Danish engineer Frederik Ottesen. In contrast to the large sun, the Little Sun produces artificial light after the real sun has set. Via solar cells on its back the Little Sun turns five hours of sun light into four hours of bright lighting or even ten hours of dimmed down LED lighting. This is particularly significant in the developing world where people are not connected to a functioning public power grid. 1,6 billion people are affected by this situation worldwide. Elíasson insists that despite its social aspirations the small lighting device is still a piece of art, if one "which has an everyday use".
Light for a better future
Life without a public power connection can potentially be improved by the Little Sun, and it has already proven to do so since it was launched in Africa in 2012. Now young students can keep on learning after dark, families can cook together and are able to cope without the use of harmful kerosene lamps, whose cost rises with the oil price. Hence, people are now a great deal less dependent on daylight and old routines.
The large sun has long disappeared from Tate Modern; unlike its small sister. Each light sold in the First World pays for a light at reduced cost in the Third World.
From Òlafur Elíasson’s perspective, the idea to bring light to people is not far-fetched. The artist himself knows the feeling of living with extremely little daylight and of being dependent on artificial lighting; he grew up in a small village in Iceland where the sun will not show up for months on end. Therefore, the motto "Light is life" also has a personal meaning for the artist.