November 27, 2018
On the set of Olafur™ x RIMOWA
Inspired by shared ideas of sustainability, longevity, and concern for the environment, RIMOWA and artist Olafur Eliasson have joined forces to create a special collection of 46 nature-inspired luggage stickers with all proceeds going to help theLittle Sun Foundation Find your nearest store. realise its mission of delivering solar energy to the most vulnerable communities worldwide.
In recent years, it seems the lines between art, design, politics, and activism have become ever more blurred. Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, is one of the more prominent names that has thrived in this space. Internationally recognised for his large-scale sculptures and installations, Eliasson’s works play on elemental materials such as light, water, and air temperature to engage with the viewers’ perceptions of space. His work is mesmerizingly engaging, as it draws us in and asks us to question perception and tap into our own sensory memory.
We caught up with Olafur to discuss his most recent collaboration with RIMOWA and chat about the transformative power of art and design in the world.
Describe your sticker project with RIMOWA, A collection of stone, lava, meteorite, ice, driftwood, and lichen.
On my travels to Iceland, I often spend time in its rugged landscape, whether on a beach with black pebbles or in the glacier-filled highlands. Sometimes I’ll find a rock or a piece of driftwood and bring it home with me. These objects are small treasures – their value comes from their feeling in the hand, their relation to my experience, my memories of where I collected them. In this way, the images depict elements from nature that have become personal treasures.
Sticking them on your suitcase is not simply expressive; it’s also a sign that you care about the world we all share. The words and phrases contextualise these treasures by referring to planet Earth, to our environment, and to climate change. I wanted to develop a succinct vocabulary that speaks to the climate action needed today. For people to carry this message across the world, whether on a train, a ship, or a plane, is a great opportunity.
How does travel inform your work?
I’m deeply interested in process, in movement, transformation, and change. When I encounter a piece of driftwood on the beach, I’m aware that this piece of wood, too, has been travelling. Our meeting is a meeting between two travellers, who are catching up with each other. The driftwood presented in the sticker box wandered from Siberia over the North Pole to Iceland. On its journey, it was marked by the rays of the sun and the salt of the sea, it was burnished, its edges rounded. It was shaped by its surroundings.
Things and animals and people are all on the move. Some are heading towards destinations of their choice, while others – millions of people, in fact – have been forced to leave their homes as a consequence of war, political instability, or climate change. To remember that the world is composed of all these different trajectories is to remember that the world is continually negotiable. And where there is room for negotiation, there is room for change.
What role do you think art & design play in making the world a better place? Can art & design create action for important issues in ways that science and policy cannot?
Abstract information and an overwhelming amount of data can have a numbing effect on us. I believe that art can help mitigate this feeling of numbness, of powerlessness, by turning urgent problems like climate change into tangible, felt experiences that motivate people to take action.
Generally, I believe in the transformative power of art and design. You might know the feeling of being moved by a work of art. Of travelling, in your mind, to a place that is new, elsewhere, but nevertheless strongly rooted in a particular physical experience. You might feel that the artwork reflects a side of you that you have not yet verbalised. Good art generates such transformative experiences and enables us to relate differently to ourselves and to the world.
Does problem-solving play a role in your creative process? How?
Art encourages us to use our intuition, embrace uncertainty, and continually search for new ideas. In my practice, I try to make present and tangible our direct relationship with the world. Light is a central feature in many of my artworks and is – in a fundamental sense – the basis of life on earth. Light is life. So, my interest in light is also an interest in our planet and in the environment.
Tell us about your Little Sun Foundation? What first triggered your interest in creating the charity?
My Little Sun solar project brings affordable, clean energy to places in the world without reliable access to electricity. Every seventh person in the world lacks access to electricity! In parts of the world, people have to burn expensive and harmful fuels like petroleum, kerosene, or biomass in order to have light. With engineer Frederik Ottesen, I created sun-powered LED lanterns to offer a solution to many of the problems related to life without electricity.
With RIMOWA, I decided that the proceeds from the sticker box sales will go to the Little Sun Foundation to help bring affordable and sustainable energy to places in the world with limited access to light. We work, in particular, with school children and refugees. Every box sold will have a real impact in the world.
What would you like for people to take away from your project with RIMOWA?
A celebration of nature and sense of appreciation for our surroundings! The environmentally-oriented words and images of everyday treasures like rocks, moss, and driftwood may act as aesthetic reminders of where we come from and where we want to go, individually and as co-inhabitants of Spaceship Earth.
Olafur Eliasson is based in Berlin. His studio is a production comprised of about 120 people, from craftsmen and specialised technicians to architects, project assistants and art historians. His work has been widely exhibited throughout the world, including at the MoMA, New York; the Venice Biennale; the Tate Modern, London; the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Foundation Louis Vuitton; and Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; among others.