Olafur Eliasson and Frederik Ottesen, Little Sun, 2012
Olafur Eliasson and Frederik Ottesen, Little Sun 2012

Visitors to Tate Modern will be able explore the galleries in the dark this summer, illuminated only by small solar-powered torches: the Little Suns.

It is part of a new artwork by Olafur Eliasson, who is best known for hanging an enormous sun in the Turbine Hall in 2003 for The Unilever Series commission.

Starting on 28 July 2012, the gallery lights will be turned off on Saturday nights for two hours, allowing visitors to explore surrealist works by Salvador Dalí, Leonora Carrington and others, using only the light of the Little Sun lamps. The project is reminiscent of the 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition at the Galérie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, where Man Ray supplied the visitors with torches to explore the labyrinthine galleries.

Eliasson, who developed the Little Sun lamps with the engineer Frederik Ottesen, hopes to draw attention to the 1.6 billion people worldwide who have no access to mains electricity. With a solar panel on one side and the latest LED technology on the other, the Little Sun takes five hours to charge and then provides five hours of light. As well as providing light for study, cooking, work or play, the torches will be sold locally, facilitating the creation of small businesses.

Besides the blackout evenings at Tate Modern, an installation featuring the Little Suns will run from 28 July to 23 September, where visitors can learn about solar power. There will also be an opportunity to buy a lamp for £16.50. In ‘off-grid’ areas the price will be approximately £7. Little Sun events in September will include a seminar and the premiere of 16 short films by filmmakers from off-grid areas around the world.

Tate’s director, Nicholas Serota, said: ‘Olafur Eliasson is an artist whose work has always sought to bring new technologies to the service of art. In the Little Sun project, he has made a beautiful object with an immense social and economic value, which has the potential to change lives in off-grid areas of the world.’

The project has been developed for the London 2012 Festival that runs across the UK until 9 September 2012.