Published in the 2014 October-December issue of Iceland Review & Atlantica – IR 05.14. Words by Zoë Robert, Photo courtesy of Little Sun.
Danish-Icelandic artist Ólafur Elíasson is known for his sculptures and large-scale installations and interventions, such as dying the rivers of Tokyo and Stockholm fluorescent green, setting up 36-meter (120-feet) high man-made waterfalls in New York City and designing the facade of Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Hall.
He is now making waves for a much more practical and down to earth—but no less grand—project: a 12-centimeter (5-inch) wide solar-powered LED lamp which he designed in collaboration with Danish engineer Frederik Ottesen.
The project, dubbed Little Sun, focuses on getting clean, reliable, affordable and sustainable light to the 1.2 billion people worldwide without access to electricity.
Kerosene lanterns are common in off-grid areas but pose a health and safety risk.
The pair stress that this is a social business, not another charity, and has the additional aim of creating jobs and profits through training local entrepreneurs to become sales agents, as well as educating people around the world about the benefits of sustainable sources of energy.
Another factor that sets the project apart is the deliberate emphasis on beauty in the design of the tool; Ólafur argues that it’s a misconception that people in the developing world care only about functionality.
Launched in July 2012 at London’s Tate Modern, Little Sun now has distribution in eight African countries and has sold over 165,000 lamps worldwide.
The lamps are also sold in areas where electricity is more widely available, such as in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan, albeit at a higher price in order to keep prices in off-grid areas low.
In part due to Little Sun, Ólafur was recently named one of Complex Magazine’s ‘15 Most Important Visual Artists of 2014 (So Far).’ With a recent injection of funding—Bloomberg Philanthropies invested USD 5 million in the project in April—further expansion is on the horizon.
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