By Venetia Rainey
LONDON (Reuters) - An ambitious new project encompassing art, design and developmental aid aims to provide a sustainable light source to replace kerosene lamps in impoverished countries, London's Tate Modern art gallery announced on Thursday.
Scandinavian artist Olafur Eliasson's "Little Sun", a bright yellow, solar-powered lamp the size and shape of a sunflower, is the center of a Tate-funded initiative developed for the London 2012 Festival, a cultural extravaganza taking place across Britain this summer in conjunction with the Olympic Games.
"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," said Nicolas Serota, director of the gallery, in a statement.
Wearing the devices on yellow strings around their necks, 45-year-old Eliasson and business partner and engineer Frederik Ottesen said in a news conference that the "portable eye" delivers 10 times more light at a 10th of the cost of a normal kerosene lamp.
The lamp needs to be charged in the sun for five hours in order to give five hours of bright light.
"Light is for everyone - it determines what we do and how we do it. It has an evident functional and aesthetic impact on our lives," said Eliasson.
"I am confident that it is a very liberating feeling that suddenly you have access to your own power."
The lights, which should have a lifespan of between three and six years, are being rolled out within existing micro-business structures in Kenya, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. One will cost $5.63 at wholesale, and retail at $10.
The scale of the operation is part of what makes it art, Eliasson said.
The artist's former works include the incredibly popular Weather Project, which created a giant setting sun in the Tate's Turbine Hall. His original London 2012 project, based around taking a breath, was rejected for public funding after it came under intense fire in the media.
The Tate will be running a series of "blackouts" from July 28 in which visitors will be able to admire the gallery's collections using only the light from the lamp.
There will also be films and an exhibition to educate people about global energy problems.
Around 1.6 billion people worldwide currently have no access to mains electricity, many of whom rely on kerosene, which is expensive and a health hazard.
(Reporting By Venetia Rainey, editing by Paul Casciato)