Olafur Eliasson: Little Sun

This new venture may not look much like art in the traditional sense but it is just as beautiful, innovative and current as any contemporary masterpiece. Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson works with friend and engineer Frederik Ottesen to create Little Sun, bringing light to everyone.

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Olafur Eliasson admits he is "obsessed with light". Having grown up in Iceland and having therefore lived in almost total darkness for eighty days a year, Eliasson is fully aware of the necessity of light: to work, to live and to bring people together.

With this exhibition he raises our awareness that everyone in this world has a right to light, and yet over a quarter of the population is deprived of simple, decent light. Most of us go into a blind panic whenever the power cuts out for twenty minutes, then are entertained by the novelty of reading our books by candlelight, but imagine living like that every day - that novelty would wear off pretty quickly.

With this exhibition's accompanying event, Black Out, Eliasson gives visitors the experience of life without light and then of the transforming effects of Little Sun. Every Saturday night visitors can walk through the Tate's Surrealism galleries in pitch darkness with only the assistance of this little solar powered invention and judge for themselves how much better life is with just a small piece of light.

The Little Sun lamp itself seems almost too aesthetically pleasing to actually be functional but Eliasson assures us it is economical, environmentally friendly and most of all, enabling. The idea is simple: sit it in the sun for four hours and you'll get five hours of light, sit it in the sun all day and you'll get fifteen hours of light.

This little lamp is also safe. Something I was completely unaware of is that kerosene lamps used instead of electrical lights are incredibly damaging to health: a child working by a lit kerosene lamp for one day is the equivalent to them having smoked forty cigarettes. This was one of Eliasson's statistics which really did appal me – of course solar power is brilliant as it's sustainable, and it's fantastic to bring light to those without it, but I think the importance of limiting the use of kerosene lamps is absolutely essential.

Still, Eliasson is not only concerned with the way in which this project benefits the individual - for him it is equally important to create unification via light, to raise global awareness of the problem and to create a lasting effect on the economic infrastructure of off-grid areas. His statement "Make, Involve, Build" explains how production costs are low so that Little Sun remains affordable; how we can engage in the project by purchasing a Little Sun and therefore building up the company; and how the distribution of Little Sun will provide work for those who need it.

It is an idealistic initiative but it makes sense, and from what Eliasson tells us this little lamp appears to be almost flawless: a three year lifespan, ten times cheaper and brighter than kerosene (not to mention healthier) and it can supposedly enable 1.6 billion people to cook, eat, read, earn and learn after dark. Solar power has been around for such a long time, as has this problem, so it's a wonder this project hasn't been done before. Perhaps all it took was someone with the creativity, funds, and who has really had the experience of life without light.

The cause of this project is one of those unpleasant facts that we unfortunately often ignore as we believe there's nothing we can do about it, but Eliasson has hopefully proven that actually we can – and I think it is very important that we do. 

Olafur Eliasson, the Danish-Icelandic artist who created the weather project at Tate Modern in 2003, brings a new project to Tate Modern this summer. Developed over the last two years, Little Sun is a work of art that brings solar-powered light to off-grid areas of the world.  

Olafur Eliasson: Little Sun will feature a space on the third floor of the gallery, where visitors can learn about solar power, the global energy challenge, light and its importance in and for life. It will also include a special set-up for people to create light graffiti using the Little Sun and offer the opportunity to buy a lamp for £16.50. Charging stations will be located at the North and West entrances to Tate Modern.

Related Little Sun events will include late night blackout events in the Surrealism galleries at Tate Modern, a seminar, and the premiere of 16 short films on light, life, and Little Sun by filmmakers from off-grid areas around the world. 

Tate Modern

London Greater London United Kingdom SE1 9TG

Open daily
  • 10.00–18.00Sunday – Thursday
    Last admission to special exhibitions is at 17.15
  • 10.00–22.00, Friday – Saturday
    Last admission to special exhibitions is at 21.15
  • On Sundays during the Olympics (29 July, 5 and 12 August) Tate Modern will be open until 22.00