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In October of 2019, the Sustainable Futures committee highlighted the work and philosophy of the Danish-Icelandinc artist Olafur Eliasson, whose installations have made the seemingly intangible aspects of climate change a personal experience for many observers- turned participants.

The presentation was guided by this statement at the Design Indaba conference in 2017:

I’m more interested in the consequences that my artwork has than for how to label my artwork. If I, for the time being, can call it art or architecture or design, it doesn’t really matter. What matters more is, how do we create a sense of spatial hospitality for instance, an idea about inclusion, an idea about climate- that’s so difficult to achieve in the first place. Sometimes that’s better to call it architecture because you need to get a construction company to build it, and sometimes you need to call it art because you need an art gallery to show it. The thing is, how do we focus on what we want to achieve? How do we create a space that has an impact?”

-Olafur Eliasson

Using this quote, we reviewed three projects out of his body of work:

  1. The Weather project, from 2003.
    • The project consisted of a fine mist being produced amidst a semi-circle of hundreds of mono-frequency lamps mounted against a mirrored ceiling throughout the enormous turbine hall of the Tate gallery.The conjunction of the mist and the mono-frequency lamps created an environment in which the spectrum of light ranged from yellow to black, with no other colors visible between.The experience of this environment “draws attention to the fundamental act of perceiving the world around us”[i]
  2. Ice Watch Paris, 2015
    • This installation took place in 2015 and brought 12 blocks of free-floating ice off from the Greenland Ice sheet and installed in front of the Place du Pantheon on the occasion of the U.N. climate conference COP21. According to the artist site “The work raises awareness of climate change by providing a direct and tangible experience of the reality of melting arctic ice.”[ii]
  3. Little Sun Project, 2012
    • This project was a joint venture with engineer Frederik Ottensen to create a portable solar lamp for people without electricity in Ethiopia.This has grown into a business which sells the lamps around the world- and at a much lower and “locally affordable price” for populations living off of an electrical grid.This lights serve as an important source of clean, reliable light source and allows these populations to divest from kerosene for lighting.
    • As of December 2018
      • 838,308 lamps distributed worldwide
      • 510,844 lamps distributed off-grid
      • 2,229,834 lives changed off-grid
      • 1865 African sales agents trained
      • 20,452,126 extra study hours for school children off-grid[iii]
      • $48,065,312 saved on energy expenses in off-grid households
      • 182,041 tonnes of Co2 reduced
    • The project has expanded into a larger solar lamps and phone chargers which are also made available to refugees and people affected by natural disaster. These products are available for purchase here.

We return to the initial quote, and focus on the message:

“The thing is, how do we focus on what we want to achieve? How do we create a space that has an impact?”

-Olafur Eliasson


[i] Tate gallery


[iii] Little sun foundation:

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