Solar Flair: An Artistic Lamp, Powered by the Sun

Olafur Eliasson and Frederik Ottesen create an object that provides light in places off the electrical grid

Olafur Eliasson and Frederik Ottesen’s solar-powered lamp Little Sun(left and above) provides light in places off the electrical grid.STUDIO OLAFUR ELIASSON

Stealing what’s ours to give to the poor, who also own it, seems to be part of the concept behind Olafur Eliasson and Frederik Ottesen’s light-emitting device Little Sun. The material in question is sunlight. But what to do with it, how to use it, and where to put it is the real gift.

Eliasson (the Danish-Icelandic artist who, in 2003, made a very big sun sculpture for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London) introduced the portable solar-powered LED lamp at the Venice Architecture Biennale last year. Little Sun sells for $25 at museum shops and online. Proceeds from those purchases enable the lights to be sold for much less in impoverished areas. Across the globe today, some 1.6 billion people have scant access to electricity, and the designers hope to make the lamp available to 50 million of them within ten years.

The art of it all derives from the international group of filmmakers and artists whom Eliasson and Ottesen asked to demonstrate uses for the gadget. Eighteen artists from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America were invited to “collaborate” on 16 short films, available online, about life, light, energy, and Little Sun, Eliasson writes in a blog post for Tate Modern, where a Little Sun exhibition was held last year.

Film director Dominga Sotomayor, from Chile, put the lamp through many tricks in her contribution, People, which is at once an installation, a poem, and a mini-movie. Little Sun is reflected in a mirror in a garden, illuminates a toilet posed nobly on a hillside, and sits like an eye on a window frame.

You can stick it on a wall, put it on your breasts, illuminate your vehicles, or plant it in trees, as Hawa Essuman of Kenya does in his video. Or you can use it to perform as a hybrid creature (part man, part animal, part sun-bearer) prowling and dancing in woods and city streets and dank tunnels, joints all aglow, as Khavn of the Phillipines does in This is not a film by Khavn, Solar Syokoy.

As for his own motivations, Eliasson writes, “This question of energy access is not just about climate issues, green economy, and so on; it is also a more fundamental question: do we understand that all humans have the same basic desires and needs? We all want to be happy, and we are also fundamentally social beings.”

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