It’s five years since Dan Tobin Smith turned unwanted items into art for The First Law of Kipple – a project which saw him arrange hundreds of objects by colour in his East London studio, inviting us to look at old clothes, books and plastic debris in a whole new light.
His latest exhibition explores a more desirable subject: gemstones. Taking over Collins Music Hall in Islington for London Design Festival, VOID combines 3D installations with musical performances and offers a fascinating look at the inner structures of rubies, emeralds and semi-precious stones.
Tobin Smith’s fascination with gemstones began around ten years ago, when he was given A Photo Atlas of Gemstone Inclusions as a gift. First published in the 1980s, the book explores the microscopic characteristics of gems with over 1,000 colour illustrations.
Inspired by the complexity of these stones, he built a custom rig kitted out with a specialist gemological microscope, which allowed him to photograph them up close at various angles. He has since documented over 100 gems, capturing the variations in their makeup and the tiny details that are undetectable to the human eye.
A collaboration with The Experience Machine (which has worked on set designs and installations for Beyonce, Jay Z and Skepta), VOID sees his images displayed on suspended cubes which emit shards of light – a concept inspired by the idea of containment and the fact that included gemstones are elements encased inside other elements. These cubes are displayed alongside stones on loan from exhibition partner Gemfields, giving a sense of scale to Tobin Smith’s extreme close-ups.
Tobin Smith and The Experience Machine have also enlisted NYX – an all-female electronic drone choir – to create a “sonic soundscape” for the show. The choir will be performing live in the space on Wednesday September 18, bringing their otherworldly sound to the space.
With its subterranean venue, and its combination of sound, light and moving image, the show is designed to give visitors the feeling of stepping into a glittering parallel world. Tobin Smith is hoping to tour the exhibition after its run in Islington – and has no plans to give up photographing gemstones any time soon.
“The tiny worlds discovered while filming the stones have been bewildering in their beauty, variation and complexity – I feel I have only just scratched the surface of an immense subject and I’m looking forward to discovering and shooting new stones in the future,” he says.