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Olafur Eliasson Harnesses the Sun with Giant Kinetic Mirrors

Olafur Eliasson's 'World Illuminator' sun tracker further explores the artist's fascination with natural phenomena.
January 29, 2015, 2:45pm

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson regularly references the natural world in his work, in particular the sun and the physics and fundaments that keep it lit. World Illuminator is a current piece by the artist, that further explores his fascination with solar energy

World Illuminator is a sun tracker is in the tradition of optical devices known as heliostats—scientific instrument usually used for practical reasons to redirect sunlight into dark rooms or to concentrate solar power to generate electricity.


Here, Eliasson turns the device into a kind of kinetic sculpture which redirects sunlight onto certain points using a mirror, adapting to the sun's position as it arcs across the sky, and reminding us of our relationship with and reliance on the cosmos above. The piece has been in development at Studio Olafur Eliasson for the past three years as they tried out different technologies, designs, and prototypes.

The Studio explains how it works, "A piece of custom software continuously calculates the position of the sun based on the date, time, and location of the heliostat on Earth. Based on the sun's position and the heliostat's orientation, a set of actuators adjust the mirror accordingly to keep the sun’s reflection on a fixed target point. The software is written in node.js and runs on a small Raspberry Pi computer embedded in the heliostat."

World illuminator, 2014, Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin

World illuminator, 2014, Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin

World illuminator, 2014, Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin

You can see the device in action in the just-released short film above, which was shot at the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin by Japanese brother-sister artist duo Shimurabros.

World illuminator, 2014 Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris 2014

The artwork currently resides on the rooftop of the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton museum in Paris, as part of Eliasson's Contact exhibition. At certain times of the day, the sun is beamed through a skylight via another mirror onto Eliasson's work Dust Particle, a geometric sculpture.


World Illuminator follows on from previous artworks that use the sun's movement, namely 1997's Your Sun Machinewhichsaw a circular hole cut into the ceiling of the Marc Foxx Gallery in Los Angeles so natural light would travel through the space, and Sunspace for Shibukawawhich involved circular prisms set in the openings in a domed roof to project the fragmented rainbow colors of the visual spectrum onto its surrounding white walls.

Test build-up of World illuminator Studio Olafur Eliasson, 2013

"To track the sun is to track yourself," explains Eliasson, "because the sun tracker locates the centre of your orbital ellipse, giving your position right now and rendering visible your path. The reflexive potential lies in understanding that we are in a way the mirrors, circulating, tracking, spinning in our Keplerian ellipses. You and I are not the centre of the universe, but in fact spinning in altruistic space."

Testing the World illuminator on the rooftop of Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris with lasers

World illuminator shining sunlight onto 'Dust Particle' Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris 2014

World illuminator, 2014 Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris 2014


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