A little girl reading with a Little Sun light. Image by Franziska Russo, courtesy of Little Sun.

As of earlier this month, IKEA will no longer simply be the practical destination for those with an appetite for affordable Swedish household items (and meatballs!), or simply the best location for having a devastating public argument with one’s partner over couches. On June 7, Icelandic-Dutch artist Olafur Eliasson turned up at IKEA headquarters to make the surprise announcement of a partnership between the home furnishings mega-brand and his five-year-old, Berlin-based sustainability company focused on solar-power initiatives, Little Sun.

The announcement was made during IKEA’s 2018 Democratic Design Days last week. Image courtesy of Little Sun.

“Little Sun makes solar energy tangible and your world a little bit more sustainable,” said Eliasson, in a statement released by Little Sun. “We are excited to collaborate with IKEA, raising awareness for energy access and the need for global togetherness. Together, we want to connect the world by sharing the power of the sun with everyone.”

Olafur Eliasson announced a partnership between his solar energy company, Little Sun, and IKEA. (image by Tomas Gislason, courtesy of Little Sun)

The artist turned up wearing a Little Sun solar-powered sunflower LED lamp around his neck — a product developed in collaboration with engineer Frederik Ottesen that can provide up to 50 hours of light after only five hours of solar-charging, with endurance based on brightness setting. The lamps have already been distributed to 10 sub-Saharan African countries, driven by Little Sun’s interest in addressing the needs of some one billion citizens worldwide who live without regular access to electricity. Little Sun also distributes a solar-powered phone charger and a pocket-sized light called Little Sun Diamond.

A Little Sun phone charger being demonstrated in Ethiopia. Image courtesy of Little Sun.

Presumably, there are many advantages to the partnership for Little Sun, which will now be able to leverage IKEA’s international network. Eliasson has long been interested in light and weather, as with his 2003 installation at the Tate Modern, The Weather Project, which fabricated a kind of interior sun, using 100 mono-frequency lights and other materials. With the impact of human civilization beginning to have marked effects on the weather, it makes sense that Little Sun is interested in using IKEA’s capacity for development and distribution to further the reach of their sustainable energy projects. For IKEA, in addition to the cache of being able to promote products designed by an internationally recognized artist, there is perhaps the potential to grab some untapped market share among off-the-grid types looking to decorate their apocalypse bunkers and stylishly outfit their go-bags.

No need to pack up your long-distance bike and head for your local IKEA just yet — the first products will not be revealed until 2019 — but with this fascinating partnership, the future of sustainable design for off-the-grid living just got a little bit brighter!

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....