DiVERGE Archives: Olafur Eliasson
The focus of this week's DiVERGE Archives is on Olafur Eliasson, a Danish-Icelandic artist that uses elemental materials - like water and light - to create unique art installations that interact with the viewers and are as groundbreaking as they are purposeful.
Olafur was born in 1967 in Copenhagen but spent a lot of his childhood in Iceland, where his parents were from. Iceland's wild landscapes had a powerful impact on the artist – its hot pools, lava fields, volcanoes, waterfalls, caves and moss banks - and his later work recreated some of the things that enchanted him as a boy. Despite having his first solo exhibition at only 15 years old, his first passion was actually breakdancing for which he even won the Scandinavian championship.
Beauty is one of Eliasson's earlier works and consists of a single spotlight illuminating a section of perforated tubing. When water is pumped through the tube, tiny water droplets cascade out, producing a curtain of mist, which then reflects the light to produce a rainbow. In using their bodies to control their perspective, viewers become responsible for their own dialogue with the work.
Eliasson also began seeing his art as a tool to counteract the consequences of a globalized society. He has stated: "art is not just an object, it is a sense of community." In his seminal project Little Sun, Eliasson worked with engineer Fredrick Otteson to develop a small, solar LED lamp shaped like a meskel flower - Ethiopia's symbol for positivity and beauty. The portable and affordable suns were devised to provide the 1.2 billion people worldwide living without electricity a clean and accessible light source as an alternative to the more often used toxic, fuel-based kerosene lanterns. In conceiving the Little Suns, Eliasson has turned art into a social business. When a Little Sun is sold within a country that has electricity, another one is automatically provided to an off-grid African community at a locally affordable price. His team encourages off-grid entrepreneurs to start their own small businesses selling Little Suns by providing them with starter kits and training. As a result, the suns create jobs and generate profits within local communities.