Olafur Eliasson’s new work is a solar-powered lamp that he and his engineer partner, Frederik Ottesen, designed and developed. It will be launched at Tate Modern later this month, and visitors will be able to view parts fo the exhibitions solely with its light.
Designed to look like an iconic sun image, with a light on the front and solar panels on the back, the Little Sun looks set to sell millions of units.
The fact the lamp was designed by an artist was important. “People want beautiful things in their lives; they want something they can use with pride . . . everyone wants something that’s not just about functionality but also spirituality.”
Eliasson hopes that for the one in five of the world’s population who exist with no connection to the national electricity supply, this light will change their life, allowing them to read, work and interact, at a fraction of the cost, over time, of using kerosene lamps.
The Berlin-based Danish artist said: “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.”
The lamps will also go on sale at the Tate, at a developed-world price of pounds 16.50. From 28 July, for every Saturday night until 23 September, the Surrealism rooms at Tate Modern will be plunged into darkness after usual opening hours, and people can visit using the lamps.
Eliasson and Ottesen met the initial costs of the lamp, and have developed what they hope will be a business model allowing the lights to be sold locally, in Kenya, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, at a worthwhile profit for retailers and affordable price for consumers. In Africa the lamps will eventually sell for about GBP 6.40. Revenue will go back to the project.
Ottesen said the lamp, during its initial three-year battery life, would give 10 times more light than a kerosene lamp, at a 10th of the cost. The battery could be replaced. Left in the sun for five hours it would provide five hours of light. The design has elements that help keep the battery cool and uses the most recent LED technology.
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