In February, in the midst of Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, Austria issued a cap on the number of asylum seekers it would accept: just 80 per day. The decision to tighten border controls, made in the wake of 90,000 asylum claims in the country, last year, sparked outrage throughout the EU.
In response to Austria giving migrants a red light, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson decided to create a “Green light,” a crystalline polyhedral LED light made from recycled materials. Over the course of three months, the lights will be assembled by refugees and migrants, working alongside local university students in a weekly workshop at Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) in Vienna. Built from recycled yogurt cups, plastic bags, nylon, and neon green LEDs, the modular lights can be stacked in any number of configurations. The project as a whole — including seminars, performances, screenings, lectures at TBA21, and the lights themselves — is meant to test “the agency of contemporary art and its potential to initiate processes of civic transformation,” according to a press release.
“Green light is an act of welcoming, addressed both to those who have fled hardship and instability in their home countries and to the residents of Vienna,” Eliasson said in a statement. “It invites them to take part in the construction of something of value through a playful, creative process. Working together in an artistic context, in dialogue with the regular visitors of the Augarten, participants build both a modular light and a communal environment, in which difference is not only accepted but embraced.” At TBA21, the Green lights will be stacked to create in a growing installation in the exhibition space.
One thing that remains unclear is if and how those assembling the lights are being compensated for their work. We’ve reached out to TBA21 to ask, and will update this post when we hear back.
Eliasson’s Green lights cost $336 a pop and can be purchased on-site at TBA21, online, and through selected partners. Proceeds will go to various initiatives helping refugees in Austria.