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Olafur Eliasson: Little Sun at Coachella

The acclaimed artist delivers eco-awareness with Absolut at this year's art and music festival

by David Graver in Culture on 14 April 2014

Only an artist who works with materials as ambitious and untamable as light, water and air temperature could embark upon a project to bring affordable light to those without it. In 2012, critically acclaimed artist Olafur Eliasson developed "Little Sun," and launched a campaign (developed with engineer Frederik Ottesen) to hopefully make solar-powered LED lamps available to the 1.6 billion people worldwide without access to electricity. To draw attention to this ongoing creative mission, Absolut Vodka partnered with Eliasson for this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Eliasson is the latest to collaborate with Absolut—who has worked with over 550 artists and commissioned over 850 works. With Absolut "Little Sun," more than an artist's work is on display— Eliasson's whole ideology is explained.

"My good friend Frederik Ottesen has been obsessively involved with solar energy for so much time," Eliasson tells CH. "He has traveled extensively in Africa and so have I. One evening when we were talking, it got dark outside. Then we realized that all we needed was a little light to keep our conversation going." When Eliasson stood to put on the porch light, he was once again struck by the fact that not everyone can do exactly that. "What we should have done was store some of that daylight for our evening," he continues. This was the idea—two and a half years ago—that would lead the two to work together on "Little Sun."

"Frederik developed the technology. He knows about the stuff inside the sun," says Eliasson. He then began envisioning a design to match. "I was interested in expressing this idea of energy and resources and power, so that the shape would not only be functional but expressive and emotional. Together, we realized we could do something special and unique. He would offer robust material and I felt I could deliver a robust concept for the design."

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Eliasson shares his belief in the value of collaborations, especially with Absolut: "We have been very active in off-grid communities within Africa. But we also focus on this idea of concerts, parties and sporting events—communication hubs where we can work to address clean energy, health and the planet." Eliasson has hosted events with "Little Sun" in the past, executed in black out fashion, where stage lights do down, musicians unplug and "Little Sun" provides everything else. Absolut was drawn to the artist and his message and brought him on board at Coachella, where the tent promotes awareness. Furthermore, "It's about having an emotional experience and associating relevance with this active audience," Eliasson explains. With Coachella's growth and ever-engaged audience, it makes for a perfect fit.

Sometimes I also just sort of waste time and play around with materials and stack stuff in my studio and I realize this is really great.

The depth and breadth of Eliasson's work is beyond impressive, and the sensory experiences he conjures never fail to initiate emotional resonance. But the path to everything he creates is always different. "There's not really a rule for it. Sometimes I think and I talk, and I sort of follow the intellectual path, maybe it is a little more academic. Then an idea grows from that and I realize I must work toward this direction." In contrast, he shares, "Sometimes I also just sort of waste time and play around with materials and stack stuff in my studio and I realize this is really great." From this experimentation, a work of art or something with artistic potential comes to light. "And then I verbalize it." Regardless of what initiates a piece, "both the thinking and the doing have an element of playfulness. The rule that I normally use: it has to be good fun and inspiring and creative."

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What I think is important here is to see that creativity is not to choose between one color or another, or a certain material against another, but rather what consequences this has on the world.

With such energy at his core, the artist notes, "We treasure creativity and this kind of idea of playing and being inspired. What I think is important here is to see that creativity is not to choose between one color or another, or a certain material against another, but rather what consequences this has on the world." Creativity, he believes, exists in understanding that the choice of color is related to the context in which you make it and the content overall. "It's the relevance with the regard to the time."

Eliasson has specific goals beyond delivering light: "The aim here is to do it in a way where people can identity with the 'Little Sun' as something they desire—holding a little sun in their hand. It will charge when you hold it out into the sun. I have a power station in my hand. I am holding hands with the sun." He likens "Little Sun" to picking an apple from a tree, only drawing upon the lightwaves of our solar system's center. "This is about empowering yourself and becoming aware that you can charge yourself during the process."

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While "Little Sun" seeks what Eliasson calls "the conscious people"—those who want to work for change and challenge the world—the truth is the conscious are not enough. Rather, the artist believes children (led by their parents) are the future. If a child is to learn that they can capture the sun and be responsible for their own light, habits form toward choosing cleaner and climate friendly sources. "It's about developing a physical relationship to energy," he begins. "Children get things so fast. They can learn from the experience of being in charge. This is not just for people who live off the grid." This project seeks that emotional bridge, and turning the question "But what can we do?" into something actionable. Fortunately, for everyone, it also happens to be designed by an artist whose well-respected work also incorporates a lot of intangible beauty.

"Little Sun" is on sale at museums across the globe, and online for $30. The Absolut "Little Sun" booth will make another appearance during Coachella's second weekend, 18-20 April 2014, where a hazy tunnel lets "Little Sun" work its magic, en route to cocktails and an interactive photobooth. You'll find it in the Beer Garden next to the Main Stage.

Images courtesy of Absolut

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