Olafur Eliasson in Iceland with Little Sun
Olafur Eliasson in Iceland with Little Sun 2012

To talk about how Little Sun started, I actually need to go back a bit. My relationship to the sun started during my childhood in Iceland, when electricity was rationed because of the oil crisis in the early seventies.

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  • Olafur Eliasson Untitled 1994 (foggy sun)

    Olafur Eliasson, Untitled 1994 (foggy sun) 

    © Olafur Eliasson

  • Olafur Eliasson, Iceland series, 2007

    Olafur Eliasson, Iceland series, 2007  

    © Olafur Eliasson

  • Olafur Eliasson The sunset series, 2006, detail

    Olafur Eliasson The sunset series, 2006, detail

    © Olafur Eliasson

As a five-year-old child I remember a siren in the city very clearly, and when the siren sounded, suddenly the whole city blacked out. As a child this was an incredible feeling of seeing – where my grandparents lived, in Hafnarfjördur – the whole city’s lights, including traffic lights and everything, go out at once. It was like a massive work of urban land art.

What was more remarkable, though, was that the experience of the sunlight would change. As the sunlight was also visible at night in the summer, albeit faintly, it was as if the daylight had suddenly been turned on. Seen from inside a house, the twilight outside the windows became much more apparent the moment the lights went out. This intensity and beauty of light outside struck me then, and it has influenced me since.

Olafur Eliasson, from The Domadalur daylight series (north) 2006

Olafur Eliasson, The Domadalur daylight series (north), 2006, detail

© Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson, from The Domadalur daylight series (north) 2006

The Domadalur daylight series (north), 2006, detail

© Olafur Eliasson

Two years ago, my friend Frederik Ottesen was working on a solar plane, and I was involved in some questions regarding its design. We were tossing ideas around, discussing the idea of a global campfire and a global torch together, and we came up with the idea that everyone in the world should be able to hold a bit of sunlight in the hand. As the sun went down while we were talking about this, we thought about prolonging the day by capturing the energy of the sun via a solar panel and then releasing it again through an LED light.

This is something that only became possible about two years ago because the price of solar panels fell significantly and the intensity of LED lights increased. Five years ago, Little Sun would have been prohibitively expensive, and now it can be volume-produced very affordably.