The Rising Of Little Sun
Light for Everyone: A solar-powered artwork by Olafur Eliasson and Frederik Ottensen
26 Mar 2013
A new sun is breaking through the horizon. It charges in the sun by day and shines brightly at night. Best of all, you can hold it in your hand. Born from the collaboration between Icelandic artist OLAFUR ELIASSON and engineer FREDERIK OTTENSEN, this creation has been baptised LITTLE SUN – a solar powered creation, dreaming of light for everyone.
Photography and text by Sophie Pinchetti
Light, in countries such as ours where electricity is generally not (yet) considered a luxury, is so often taken for granted. We live by it, and feel by it: its presence, or lack thereof. So it is no doubt shocking to consider that 1.6 billion people worldwide live without access to the electrical grid. As the energy crisis around the world unravels, alternative forms are needed more than ever. And what of the quarter of humanity who has not even had a chance to turn on a light switch yet?
With this in mind, Little Sun’s journey began in 2012. Pushing the boundaries of art’s interaction into our daily lives, Little Sun aims to address the unequal distribution of light throughout the world by providing a practical and affordable artificial light source: it is ‘a work of art that works in life’, says Eliasson.
Having recently travelled to Mexico and spent a few weeks off-grid, I was able to share Little Sun along the journey with friends from all over Mexico and the world. From Palenque, to a remote beach in Chiapas known as Boca del Cielo (“Heaven’s Mouth”), Little Sun was easily functional, fulfilling the need for a free, sustainable and accessible light source when a fire was the only other light possible. Shining the light through the jungle at night, Little Sun manifested our possession of sunlight into something real, functional, and beautiful.
LITTLE SUN’S SOCIAL BUSINESS MODEL
Little Sun takes on the distribution and usage of Little Sun lanterns as part of the artwork. Now with flagship points in off-grid locations such as Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and available in European cities such as London and Milan, Little Sun adopts a social business model, exercising a profit-to-the-point strategy. Effectively, when someone buys a Little Sun in a country such as England, it helps to lower its price for developing countries’ off-grid zones.
Where Little Sun costs 25 Dollars or 20 Euros in developed nations, the cost is $9 in developing nations, saving users around 90% over a 3 year period when replacing the commonly used kerosene lanterns with Little Sun’ solar-powered LED light. A five-hour charge gives three hours of light: providing a clean, safe and reliable alternative to the kerosene lamps predominant in the poorest areas of the world outside the electrical grid. By making sustainable light available anywhere, Little Sun’s global project hopes to help decentralise access to power in the world.
While many improvements and developments remain to be made if solar energy is to power large-scale demands across great distances, Little Sun, on the other hand, addresses the immediate need for light in areas without electricity, joining existing solar businesses such as SolarAid and D.Light in the venture.
ART AS A VEHICLE FOR CHANGE
Little Sun spearheads a uniquely artistic approach. Eliasson emphasises that Little Sun’s global project serves to illuminate the issue of energy from the perspective of art: it’s about changing the way we change things‘, as he puts it. It becomes an artwork that is animated through daily, social and communual experience and existence.
This social and environmental concern is of course, also one that Eliasson’s artistic practice has been concerned with since the early 1990s. Currently based in Berlin, Eliasson’s artistic practice explores conceptions of reality, perception and space, often creating immersive works. Experimenting with constructs of reality through a myriad of different forms, from architecture, sculpture, large-scale installation, projection and photography, Eliasson’s work often incorporates ephemeral and elemental materials such as water and light, highlighting the fluidity between nature and culture. Having grown up in Iceland where light in the winter is quasi non-existent, Little Sun progresses Eliasson’s obsession and work with light on a global level.
LITTLE SUN FILMS
Alongside the distribution of Little Sun throughout the world, which the business hopes to reach 50 million by the year 2020, Little Sun has launched artistic collaborations and exhibitions with museums such as the Tate Modern in London, with projects such as Little Sun Films, screening specially-commissioned films inspired by Little Sun by sixteen young filmmakers from around the world.
From Africa to the Middle East, Asia and South America, the films testify to these regions’ energy shortage, and our globally intimate relationship with light. Works notably included enfant terrible of Philippine cinema Khavn contributing a surreal short featuring a merman wandering through the city of Manila; Chilean filmmaker Dominga Sotomayor’s poetic People documenting the beauty and tempo of life lived off-grid; while Lebanese-American director Susan Youssef (director of the highly acclaimed film Habibi) collaborates with her husband and producer Man Kit Lam to create a haunting atmosphere caught between natural and urban phenomena.
REGENERATING OUR PLANET
Little Sun urges in the fundamental issue of humanity’s basic right to light. Universal access to light shouldn’t be a utopian vision. Without electricity, real development stalls. We can look at light practically and functionally: it facilitates work and earning, and enables many activities.
But light also stimulates and fulfils a spiritual need. A few more hours of light at night, means a few more hours to learn, to study, to write. Where there is light, there is more opportunity for creation. It can become a living process towards self-realisation and freedom.