Silk Pavilion II – Mediated Matter Group at the MoMA

Latest in the series of groundbreaking projects by Mediated Matter Group (MIT Media Lab) is the new successor to the Silk Pavilion (2013) project, results currently on show (subject to COVID-19 restrictions) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 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.

Main image: Kinetic jig rotary structure and soluble knit

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 MoMA, Silk Pavilion II stands six meters tall and five meters wide. Building upon research developed for Silk Pavilion I (2013), this successor project tackles challenges associated with scale and sericulture.

The project comprised 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 was 17532.

↑ Robotic CnC winding fiber
↑ Assembly of kinetic rig structure
↑ Kinetic rig in motion with sensors

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.

“We explore the impact of light, heat and gravity on the quality of silk and its distribution patterns.”

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.

↑ Computational simulation of a fiber toolpath

“How might we invent technologies to enable co-design, co-manufacturing and co-habitation across species?”

↑ Mesh created by a thread deposition tool
↑ Mesh created by extruding and bonding pla
↑ Computational simulations exploring the impact of static, stepped, and continuous motion over silkworm spinning behavior

The kinetic jig is designed to help spread the distribution of silkworms while they metamorphize. Jog rotates around 15,000 times with silk worms producing 7240 miles of combined silk threads length.

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, (Veneto) where the tradition of sericulture and silk manufacturing blossomed during the 12th century Renaissance.

↑ Stepped rotation of kinetic jig
↑ Computational simulations exploring the impact of static, stepped and continuous motion over silkworm spinning behavior.

Please visit the exhibition website for more information. The site includes links to projects (products and architectural installations) as well as platforms (the technologies we invented and deployed to materialize the projects.) Each project is organised around categories: position (a section providing some context), process (a section providing information about the technology and the platform associated with the creation of the project), product (the product or architectural installation itself) and policy (implications for the future in the translation from speculative design to real-world applications). 

Mediated Matter Group at MIT Media Lab | Mediated Matter | MoMA

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

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 Musuem of Modern Art for Neri Oxman: Material Ecology
Organized by: Paola Antonelli and Anna Burckhardt

Year: 2020
Location: MoMA. 2020. New York, NY
Dates: TBC


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