Artist Olafur Eliasson is something of a master of the elements. Known for bringing roaring waterfalls to NYC, a rainbow to Denmark, and a misty sunset to London's Tate Museum, Eliasson meshes the natural and the material worlds to provide immersive, and in many cases tactile experiences for visitors. Previously we showcased the Danish-Icelandic artist's attempts to enable internet users to make their mark on the moon, and now, with his newest project Eliasson would like to give all those who want it a little piece of the sun. Above, learn more about what drives Eliasson to create--and his ambitious plan to bring clean, efficient light to thousands of the world's inhabitants currently living without it.
Image courtesy of Desta Mahdere.
Little Sun, first debuting at the World Economic Forum on Africa in 2012, is a global imitative bringing tiny, sunburst-shaped, plastic solar-powered LED lights, capable of self-renewable energy, to some of the world's farthest flung destinations. Designed in collaboration with Frederick Ottesen, each Little Sun unit is composed of a 6 cm x 6 cm single cell mono-crystalline solar module that requires only four hours of sunshine to produce five hours of reading light.
Elliasson calls Little Sun, "A work of art that works in life," as the device could help provide a practical and portable source of artificial illumination to over 1.3 billion citizens worldwide without access to proper electricity. In addition, Little Sun also hopes to reduce pollution caused by toxin-emitting kerosene lamps--in many regions the only source of light. According to World Bank Research, it's estimated that frequent use of kerosene lamps, and subsequent exposure to fumes, is roughly equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day--causing many long-term health problems in developing nations.
Ever the optimist, Eliasson believes that design can be used to improve the conditions of some of the globe's most marginalized citizens. As he explained to The Guardian, "Art is always interested in society in all kinds of abstract ways, though this has a very explicit social component. The art world sometimes lives in a closed-off world of art institutions, but I still think there's a lot of work to show that art can deal with social issues very directly."
Courtesy of Studio Olafur Eliasson.
As part of Little Sun's overall plan to improve lives, ongoing production will be tied to a social enterprise strategy meant to empower local businesses by allowing them to sell and distribute this cheap, and natural, source of energy. "Little Sun makes energy less abstract and more tangible," explains Eliasson. "It offers a solution to energy inequality, of course – but it also ties us emotionally and physically to what energy means today. Little Sun is about the self-esteem gained from feeling you have resources and are powerful. It’s not just about access to energy – it’s about being strong."
Eliasson's vision was aarded the 2014 Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT, and will be partially realized via the $100,000 cash prize, as well as a campus residency at MIT where students will work on creating installations with the Little Sun lamp.
Since receiving official certification from Lighting Africa, a joint IFC and World Bank program, over 165,000 Little Sun lamps have been distributed--bringing solar light to Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Senegal, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, as well as the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan.