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A Giant Crystal Totem Pole Animates a Rainbow

600 oversized Swarovski crystals create an optical illusion at the London Design Festival.
Photo by Mark Cocksedge

When visitors enter the Grand Entrance of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, they are greeted by Zotem, a 60-foot installation conceived by Norwegian designer Kim Thomé, in collaboration with Swarovski. Thomé encased 600 oversized, custom-made Swarovski crystals within two identical, parallel sheets of matte black aluminum. A roll of brightly colored mesh runs in a continuous loop between the two aluminum faces, and as light shines through, the clear surface of the crystals is animated with a varying sequence of color and pattern.


Zotem by Kim Thomé in partnership with Swarovski. All images courtesy London Design Festival.

The looping mechanism references analog animation devices—in fact, Zotem is a combination of the words ‘zoetrope’ and ‘totem’—and yet results in a piece that appears to be digital. The vertical metal frame is an open structure, leaving the installation’s inner workings in plain view. This is half the fun. If hidden, the viewer might walk away thinking the animation is run by computers.

“I like the added dimension that illusion creates,” Thomé tells The Creators Project. “It's not something I feel I need to do in all my work but I really enjoy creating experiences which captivate the audience, and illusion can sometimes be a good tool for this.”

Photo by Mark Cocksedge

Many of the crystals used in the piece are 2.5 times their regular size. “I was first working on some potential crystal work with Swarovski when the opportunity came up at the V&A to do an installation in the Grand Entrance for LDF,” Thomé says. “I pitched an idea using Swarovski crystals to the V&A, and the rest is history.”

The very top of the towering structure can be viewed from the museum’s ceramics gallery, which sits above the entrance on the sixth floor. This is a privileged vantage point, where the crystal grid fans out and creates unique color effects.

Photo by Mark Cocksedge

Photo by Mark Cocksedge

The London Design Festival ends September 27th, but Zotem will be up until October 31st. See more projects by Kim Thomé here.


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