It's a solar-powered lamp, the latest work of Olafur Eliasson, the artist whose work The Weather Project 2003 attracted 2 million of us to Tate Modern. There his huge blowsy sun, with mist and mirrors on the ceiling, transformed the massive Turbine Hall into an unlikely playground.
Little Sun is his latest work. Again he uses light and again engages the viewer, but this time for a serious purpose. Little Sun was developed with Frederik Ottesen. It works like this: expose the solar panel at the back to the sun for 5 hours, turn it over and you have stored 5 hours of strong light for the evening. It could replace kerosene lamps: it's estimated that over 3 years a family can save over 90% of what it usually spends on energy for lighting, at the same time getting ten times more and better light. And kerosene is a health hazard: did you know that a ten year old girl doing her homework in the light of a wick-based lamp breathes in pollution the equivalent of 40 cigarettes a day? Then add the constant risk of kerosene spills in homes made of flammable materials.
So Little Sun could change people's lives. Quite a lot of people, if you consider that one person in five on this planet (1.6 billion) lives without access to mains electricity.
But is it art? Can art have an instrumental value? Why not market it through Ikea, rather than the London Cultural Olympiad and Tate Modern? Eliasson is an artist who invites us to look again at our world and our taken-for-granted assumptions, and to question what it means to live on our planet today. In Eliasson's words, 'Little Sun transforms the light that is for all of us into light that is for each of us'.
In 2010 Neil McGregor, the Director of the British Museum, produced a book and a hugely successful series of broadcasts on The History of the World in 100 Objects. What did he choose for his one hundredth significant object? A solar power lamp and charger.
Four Tate Blackouts are taking place on Saturday nights between 10pm and midnight, starting on July 28th. The lights will go out but visitors can view the Surrealist works in a suite of galleries. Entry is free but you will need to buy a Little Sun (£16.50 or 22 Euros). It's an echo of a 1938 Surrealist Exhibition in Paris where Man Ray supplied visitors with torches to explore the galleries.
Charlotte Higgins gives a full account in: