“When I took the lamp to Africa two years ago, my partner and I were testing it. It’s a cool story, we tested it, it was more functional, not a very pretty, a quite daunting looking, light. We made one big mistake, we said: “Look, we have done this really functional thing for poor people.” People said: “a) I think it’s ugly and b) I am not poor.” We realised how wrong we were to come into a country like this and say: “you are poor.” It was offensive and poor of us. We stopped. This is a land for rich people and powerful people. It’s a power station. If you have the lamp in your hand its powerful, it’s to show my neighbour if it’s resourceful. And it helps if it’s beautiful.”
Famed for his 2003 Weather Project, Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson gets all Edison for his latest art piece, Little Sun, an ambitious, handheld solar energy device he co-created with engineer Frederik Ottesen. Together, the duo have stirred a dialogue around the global energy challenge with their clever invention: A small yellow light (which take five hours to charge in the sun) to help give light for the 1.6 billion people who live without access to electricity. Safer, healthier and cheaper than kerosene lamps, Eliasson will be bringing 4,000 of these solar light devices to Africa this autumn.
"We realised how wrong we were to come into a country like this and say: “you are poor.” Africa is a land for rich people and powerful people. It’s a power station."
A professor by day, his students from the Universität der Künste Berlin will be studying in Africa for eight weeks this fall. “Every year, we take a longer trip to South America, North America, to Iceland, this year we are preparing to go to Africa,” says Eliasson, whose studio base is in Berlin. “Not just to experience different cultures, but to get a better understanding of being in Berlin. Sometimes you have to go away to understand Berlin, a bit.”
The Little Sun exhibition by Olafur Eliasson is on show now at the TATE Modern until September 23 in London.
Text by Nadja Sayej