The Art of the Map - Olafur Eliasson
The innovative, European artist is obsessed with sunshine, as you can gather from his neon-lit map of the world
The Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson's works often deal with one of the most basic visual and sensory elements within human existence: sunlight. The artist’s Weather Project, installed in the Tate Modern’s turbine hall in 2003, mimicked the sun, while the artist’s Little Sun company produces LED solar-powered lamps. So, when he came to create a map, it shouldn’t surprise us to learn that Eliasson engaged with the passage of sunlight across the globe.
The artist’s 2005 Daylight Map, which is featured in our new book, Map: Exploring the World, uses twenty-four neon tubes for the evenly spaced vertical lines that divide international time zones. Presented without the context of the familiar shapes of countries, it is striking that the lines are not uniformly parallel but, rather, remarkably crooked.
This reminds the viewer that while the organization of world time is notionally based on a natural phenomenon – the Earth’s complete rotation on its axis divided into twenty-four hours – in practice, artificial national boundaries demonstrate political factors at play, which complicate the structure. At any one time, about half of the neon tubes are illuminated, indicating places in the world that are experiencing daylight. Indeed, the map functions in real time, so that as the sun sets on a region and one neon tube switches off, another automatically comes on where the sun is rising. Seen in the context of the Danish-Icelandic artist’s wider art practice, which is concerned with the environment and ecology, this map also highlights the fact that at any one time, somewhere on the globe, electric lights are always on.