GERMANY/ DENMARK/ ICELAND: OLAFUR ELIASSON: LITTLE SUN

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Little Sun is a tiny gadget of giant importance with which Eliasson also popped up at the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice : a hand-sized solar-powered lantern that is primarily meant to bring light to the 1,6 billion that are still deprived of connection to an electric grid

Max Borka reports. (c) IMAGE Tomas Gislason

 

When recently invited by the Tate Modern and the London Olympics to come up with a sequel to Weather Project, the 2003 show that had definitively established Olafur Eliasson’s reputation of being one of the world’s most successful artists by drawing over 2 million visitors during its five-month installation, Eliasson turned up with a project in which the giant sun that stood at the center of Weather Project had been literally fragmented into a myriad copies of Little Sun, a tiny gadget of giant importance with which he also popped up at the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice a few days ago: hand-sized solar-powered lanterns that are primarily meant to bring light to the 1,6 billion that are still deprived of connection to an electric grid. Totally in line with the Joseph Beuys motto the Social had become Art, while Art had become Social, bridging the gap between High and Low, basic needs and the sublime, and many other extremes and discrepancies.

With Little Sun Olafur Eliasson has primarily created a light for regions where electricity is not available, reliable, affordable or sustainable. Developed in collaboration with the engineer Frederik Ottesen over a period of two years, its looks speak a universal and simple gadget-language, as if it were a 3D version of a child’s drawing of a sunflower. It fits in the palm of your hand, and is solar-powered, producing light for 5 hours. Extremely easy in use, it also seems to fit all other criteria for this kind of object. But what really makes the tiny object stand out from all similar initiatives of its kind is that it was launched as a major artwork – offering the third world and its issues a platform and attention in well-off cenacles, joyfully shaking, mixing and trespassing quite some other borders that were considered given and self-evident, not in the least those that define what should be good architecture.

FRAGMENTED

Born in Copenhagen and living and working in Berlin, Olafur Eliasson is a Danish sculptor and installation artist of Icelandic descent. He spent his youth in Iceland, and studied at the Academy of Copenhagen. His work mainly focuses on the relationship between technology and natural phenomenon, such as light and water, or movement and reflection. Since 2006 he is a professor at the Universität der Künste in Berlin. Asked about his motivation behind his decision to return to the Tate with a project in which the giant sun of yore had fragmented in innumerable small ones that –if it wasn’t for the fact that they were linked to his name- never would have made it to the status of been artwork, Eliasson replied: ‘Over the years, I have been absorbed by phenomena such as light, time, the negotiation of space, compassion and the relation between body, mind, and action. Little Sun brings these different strands of my work together – this is a very important step for me. By bringing Little Sun to Tate Modern and the London Olympics, I hope to realize an art project for those who typically have no access to global events of this scale.’ In other words: exhibiting the Little Sun was also like offering a platform for the dark side of the moon, that part of the world that was doomed to remain invisible, while it was also an ideal occasion to physically confront the Have’s with the importance of light, and the reality of being a Have Not.

LIGHT GRAFFITI

Next to featuring a documentary space where visitors can learn about solar power, the global energy challenge, light and its importance in and for life, the project in the Tate also includes a special set-up for people to do light graffiti using the Little Sun. It offers the possibility to participate in Tate Blackouts on Saturday nights after ordinary museum hours, during which the lights went off in the former power station and visitors could look at the works of art in the suite of galleries devoted to Tate Modern’s Surrealist collection using only the light of Little Sun. And last but not least there is the premiere of 16 short films on light, life, and Little Sun, by filmmakers from off-grid areas around the world.

Visitors also get the opportunity to buy a lamp for £16.50 (€22) at the Tate, double the amount at which it will be sold in off-grid areas. Distribution in these areas is also meant to facilitate the creation of small businesses to sell the lamp and aims to promote economic growth, by concentrating profits at the point of need, while buying the Little Sun at full price in areas of the world with electricity, helps make it available at a lower price to communities with no or inconsistent electricity – making them the proud possessors of a major artwork for a trifle. Olafur Eliasson: Little Sun. Until September 23 at Tate Modern, London. 13th Architecture Biennale: Common Ground. Through November 25th. www.littlesun.com. www.olafureliasson.net

www.tate.org.uk, www.labiennale.org

Little Sun will be highlighted at the Mapping the Design World Meeting Point at Reciprocity, the Design Biennial for Social Innovation in Liege, Belgium, from October 5 through October 28 2012, and will also feature in the accompanying MAP-Mapping the Design World magazine – focusing on some 100 examples of (Do) Good Design from an equal number of countries.

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