Project

Silk Pavilion II

Silkii Web 02
Silk II video

Silkworm-spun pavilion

Research team: João Costa, Christoph Bader, Sunanda Sharma, Felix Kraemer, Susan Williams, Jean Disset, Nitzan Zilberman (curation). Undergraduate researcher: Sara Wilson. Prof. Neri Oxman

Year: 2020

Location: MoMA. 2020. New York, NY

Platform: Co-fabrication

Silki Silkworm Feeding 1080p
Silkworm eating mulberry leaf

Average number of cocoons boiled per single T-shirt

1000
How can we extract silk without boiling cocoons? What are the implications for sericulture, manufacturing and bio-digital design?

Position

What are radically sustainable methods for spinning, weaving, making and building in the age of the Anthropocene? How can humankind and members of other species such as silkworms collaborate in the construction of objects, products, and buildings? Can we extract silk without boiling cocoons?

Commissioned for the Material Ecology exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Silk Pavilion II stands six meters tall and five meters wide. Building upon research developed for Silk Pavilion I, this successor project tackles challenges associated with scale and sericulture. The project utilizes an integrated kinetic mandrel designed to guide the natural spinning motion of the silkworms through clockwise rotation, fusing technology and biology to unite the woven and the spun.

Silkii Fabrication Space Rear View
Kinetic jig rotary structure and soluble knit
Silkii Jig Spinning Angle View
Long exposure photograph of rotating jig enabling uniform silk deposition
Silkii Inside View
Interior view of kinetic jig, soluble knit, and live silkworms in the spinning phase
Silkii Fabric Sunset Detail
Unique spinning patterns of 'flattened cocoons' spread over soluble knit
Silkii Silkworms On Structure
Fifth instar silkworms upon dissolvable knit
Silkii Silkworms Detail
Concentrated silk deposition at point connections between knit and suspension cables
10 days of co-creation among silkworms, humans and a robotic loom-like jig resulted in a structure made of silk threads longer than the diameter of planet Earth.

Total number of silkworms placed on kinetic jig

17532
Silkii Silkworms Spinning 720p
Silkworm spinning inside cocoon
Silkii Silkworms In Hands 720p
Handful of silkworms
Silkii Silkworms On Kinetic Jig 720p
Silkworms spinning silk on dissolvable mesh
Silki Robotic Loom 720p
Robotic CNC winding fiber
Silkii Rig Structure Installation 720p
Assembly of kinetic rig structure
Silkii Rig Starts Spinning 720p
Kinetic rig in motion with sensors

Process

The Pavilion was constructed in horizontal orientation, with mechanical top-down kinetic manipulation enabling constant clockwise rotation of the mandrel that facilitates the silkworms’ upward spinning motion. Fiber density across the surface area of the structure varies as a function of local environmental factors such as the direction, duration and intensity of heat and light, as well as the topology of the kinetic hyperboloid that is designed to guide the movement of the silkworms. These factors can affect the silkworms’ movement and spinning, and thereby the resulting thickness of the silk layer produced.

The Pavilion’s primary structure and the soluble knit scaffold are stretched with a cable system; given its physical properties, the intermediate knit yarn layer acts as support for the silkworms. The holes, which release some of the tensile stress in the structure, result from chemical reactions between the silkworms’ excretions and the underlying yarn. These structural forces are influenced biochemically, expressing a ‘metabolic footprint’ of the silkworms’ fluxes and flows.

Silkii 3d Scan Detail View 1080p
3D point-cloud scan data of the pavilion during silk spinning employing infrared laser rangefinders
We explore the impact of light, heat and gravity on the quality of silk and its distribution patterns.
Silkii Behavioral Experiments
Height as a template for silk deposition
Silkii Toolpath Simulation 1080p
Computational simulation of a fiber toolpath
01 Experiments Robotic Silk Deposition
Initial experiments in robotic silk deposition
Silkii Thread Deposition Tool 720p
Mesh created by a thread deposition tool
Silkii Pla Deposition Tool 720p
Mesh created by extruding and bonding PLA
Silkii Light Simulation 720p
Computational simulations exploring the impact of static, stepped, and continuous motion over silkworm spinning behavior
Silkii Light Setup 720p
Experiment on light guided silkworm behavior
The kinetic jig is designed to help spread the distribution of silkworms while they metamorphize

Number of jig rotations

15000
Silkii Detail Rotating Jig 720p
Silkworms on dissolvable mesh on rotating jig
Silkii Rotation Of Jig Looping 720p
Stepped rotation of kinetic jig
Silk Ii Spinning Structures Comparison 720p R1
Computational simulations exploring the impact of static, stepped and continuous motion over silkworm spinning behavior.

Total length of combined silk threads

7240 MI
Silkii Moma Pavilion Mirror
Silk II at MoMA

Product

The Pavilion is made of three interrelated layers. Its innermost primary structure is comprised of one-dimensional, braided steel-wire ropes. Its secondary structure is a two-dimensional fabric on which silkworms are positioned.

The tertiary, three-dimensional structure is biologically spun with the output of 17,532 silkworms sourced from Teolo, Italy, one of the most extensive silkworm-rearing facilities in Europe. In this region of Veneto, the tradition of sericulture and silk manufacturing blossomed during the 12th century Renaissance.

Silkii Assembly Part 2 720p
Tensioning of Silk II at MoMA
Silkii Assembly Part 3 720p
Overall view within gallery space
How might we invent technologies to enable co-design, co-manufacturing and co-habitation across species?
Silkii Silkmoths Laying Eggs
Female silkmoths laying eggs within circular vessels
Silkii Egg Incubation
Fertilized silkworm eggs preserved in cold storage
Silkii Eggs
Sheets of silkworm eggs from a single strain
Silkii Silkmoth Eggs On Paper
Close up of fertilized silkworm eggs
Is the [Silk] Lab more sustainable than the [Silk] Road?

Policy

Sericulture has been criticized by animal welfare and animal rights activists due to the fact that the process of harvesting silk from the cocoon kills the larva. In the textile and silk industry today, silkworms are exterminated while in their cocoons, dissolving the adhesive that glues one strand of silk to the layers below. This process allows a single silk filament to be unrolled from the cocoon but disrupts the life cycle and development of the organism.

As the Silk Pavilion demonstrates, structures can influence silkworms to spin in sheets instead of cocoons, thereby producing the same quantity of silk without boiling cocoons. The project illustrates how these compact and unique insects can act not only as living looms but as co-designers collaborating with humans to design and construct architectural-scale structures embodying co-fabrication for cohabitation. While it is a well-known fact that even the harvesting of Eri or Ahimsa silk (processed without killing silkworms through hand-spinning) is problematic due to the domestication, breeding, and exploitation of animals; our hope is that the research underlying this work will inspire many to question 7,000 years of sericulture policy at large.

Silkii Fabrication Facility
View of the fabrication room and production jig in Italy

Credits

Collaborators & Contributors: Davide Biasetto, Il Brolo Società Agricola SRL, Padua; Levi Cai; Silvia Cappellozza and Alessio Saviane, Council for Agricultural Research and Agricultural Economics Analysis (CREA-AA), Bologna; Natalia Casas; Kelly Egorova; Fiorenzo Omenetto, Tufts University; Sol Schade, Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA); James C. Weaver, Wyss Institute, Harvard University; Bodino; Front Inc.; The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation; MIT Media Lab

Commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art for Neri Oxman: Material Ecology

Organized by Paola Antonelli and Anna Burckhardt

All images and videos courtesy of Neri Oxman and The Mediated Matter Group

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