In real life: Olafur’s exhibition travels from the Tate Modern to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

February 2020

Sixteen years ago, our founder Olafur Eliasson installed a huge artificial sun at the Tate Modern, London, with The Weather Project. The installation using mono-frequency light and mist gave visitors of the Turbine Hall the opportunity to feel the sun through an embodied experience, connecting each other through the energy of the sun. In December 2018, Olafur was back with Ice Watchan installation of twenty-four ice blocks in front of the museum to raise awareness for the impact of climate change together with geologist Minik Rosing. From 10 July 2019 to 5 January 2020, Olafur returned to the Tate Modern with his exhibition In real life, highlighting the crucial role the environment plays in all our lives. If you missed it, you now have the chance to see the exhibition in Spain, where it is now on display at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao from 14 February until 21 June 2020. 

The iconic Tate Modern is situated in the Bankside area of London. Behind its impressive brick façade, the Tate Modern is brimming with modern and contemporary artworks and draws millions of visitors every year. In Summer 2019, Olafur was invited to present over four decades of his work. In his exhibition called In real life, he presented works about experiencing, interacting with the people around, and reflecting on climate change, including various models, paintings, and interactive installations introducing natural phenomena. Some of our team members had the chance to visit In Real life, here are our top 3 favorite works (spoiler alert: it was hard to choose).

Beauty, 1993

Photo: Anders Sune Berg
Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New
York / Los Angeles
© 1993 Olafur Eliasson

This artwork is one of Olafur’s older works and Laura Cumming of The Guardian describes our fascination with it perfectly:

“The most entrancing experience is possibly the simplest: a room of quiet rain, through which rainbows play in the misty spray. It is titled, with unarguable and irreducible truth, Beauty. The sublime effects of nature are fleeting yet an artist can hold them before you for as long as you wish, in this case with nothing more than a spotlight, a pump and some hoses.”

Din blinde passenger, 2010

Photo: Anders Sune Berg
Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New
York / Los Angeles
© 2010 Olafur Eliasson

By entering this corridor, we were quite disoriented and fascinated. An illuminated fog plays with our perceptions and forces us to rely on other senses to reach the end of the tunnel.

Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010 

Courtesy of Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Collection, Vienna
© 2010 Olafur Eliasson

This artwork made it to the cover of our Year in Pictures 2019! Five color spotlights were illuminating a wall and projecting our silhouettes, inviting us to play with our bodies and move around to make the colors and scale of the silhouette different!

The Expanded Studio

However, Olafur and his studio are working on so much more every day. This space was dedicated to his engagement with society and the environment and gave a behind-the-scenes understanding of how the studio operates, highlighting his non-art-exclusive projects such as Ice Watch, Green light – An artistic workshop, and… Little Sun. You could indeed see the evolution of our solar lamps, from our inception at the Tate Modern in 2012 until today – celebrating one million lamps distributed in the meantime. A large pinboard was also showcasing research articles, pictures, or quotes all sorted around keywords to give visitors the chance to reflect and leave the museum full of inspiration.

The Expanded Studio
Photo: Anders Sune Berg
© 2019 Olafur Eliasson

Holding hands with the sun

In the museum shop, visitors were able to shop their favorite sustainable light and source of happiness! The window display was shining bright in rainy London for a few months, showcasing our project in a beautiful way. On the occasion of Olafur’s exhibition opening at Tate, we even designed a special tote bag for more sustainable adventures! It features one of the central ideas surrounding Little Sun as an art project – holding hands with the sun.

Experiencing art with solar

Alongside our involvement in the Expanded Studio and in the shop, we also had the opportunity to share the power of the sun with visitors! On 26 July from 6 to 10 pm, the Uniqlo Tate Lates were exploring themes related to the environment, sustainability and the arts. On this occasion, the lights were turned off in the East Tanks so that visitors could take a Little Sun at the entrance and illuminate Kemang Wa Lehulere’s artworks. We regularly organize such blackouts in museums to offer people the chance to experience art another way, stimulating the sense of space, sight, and light, as well as creating an even more intimate experience between visitors and the art they are interacting with. It is so pleasant seeing people having solar fun!

© Tate, Uniqlo Tate Lates, photography Alex Wojcik

Visit In real life in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

If you did not have a chance to visit In real life in London, the exhibition has since traveled to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain and is running from 14 February until 21 June 2020.

Furthermore, the museum and the regional government of Bizkaia supported our Little Sun team in Senegal. Through their funding, the team has been able to train 15 sales agents in entrepreneurship, business administration, development, and marketing, and is currently scouting new agents in the North of Senegal. The sales agents distribute our solar lights in their regions, providing a livelihood for their families, supporting local economic growth, and raising awareness for renewable energy – all at the same time. We are so thrilled to see how the art world can support climate action and address Sustainable Development Goals!


Would you also like to empower more people in regions where electricity is still a luxury?



Photo credits top carousel:
Model room , 2003 (Photo: Anders Sune Berg)
Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Purchase 2015 funded by The Anna-Stina Malmborg
and Gunnar Höglund Foundation.
Portrait of Olafur Eliasson (Photo: Runa Maya Mørk Huber / Studio Olafur Eliasson)
Room for one colour, 1997 (Photo: Anders Sune Berg)
Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New
York / Los Angeles