by Jen Bervin
7S, or, Seven Silks, began as a six-year research project (2010–2016) developed with expertise from more than thirty international textile archives, medical libraries, nanotechnology and biomedical labs, and sericulture sites in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Bervin collaborated with scientists David Kaplan and Fiorenzo Omenetto at the Tufts University Bioengineering Department who pioneered reverse-engineered liquefied silk and new uses for it—among these: an implantable biosensor on nanoimprinted clear silk film to monitor blood chemistry.
Elaborating on this component of their research, Bervin wrote a poem to be inscribed on the silk biosensor. The project stems from her belief that poems have work to do: that reading such a biosensor inside the body is not a neutral context, but rather one pre-inscribed with concern about health and mortality, written in a material with a significant international history. The poem acts as a kind of talisman, written from the perspective of the silkworm, addressed to the person with the silk biosensor implanted in their body.
The form of the poem strand is modeled on silk at the DNA level—the six-character repeat in the silk genome is the basis for the poem’s six-letter line. The shape of the strand reflects both the filament deposition pattern that silkworms create when making their cocoon, as well as the beta sheet structures of silk proteins, both of which form like the weft thread in weaving. At Tufts University Silklab, the poem was fabricated in nanoscale using a mask to etch the poem in gold spatter on a wafer. Reverse-engineered liquid silk was then poured over the wafer. When the silk dried, the letters remained suspended in the clear film.
Bervin’s research and fabrication process for Silk Poems can be viewed in the short film by Charlotte Lagarde, and the full poem is available to read in book form published by Nightboat Books. Silk Poems was named a Book of the Year by The New Museum.
7S is an artist book edition that comprises the physical materials that informed Bervin’s research, as well as newly-conceived iterations of the project. It includes an archival box containing two prints on silk fabric— the poem strand printed on silk, folded; a photograph of a silk cocoon printed on silk, a signed copy of Silk Poems by Jen Bervin; a Bombyx Mori cocoon in glass jar, a vial with a scroll printed on silk, a vial with a skein of silk thread, a glass vial of liquid silk fibroin, and a colophon. There are 100 copies in the edition.
This project is supported by Tufts Silklab, a Creative Capital Grant, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a Montalvo Art Center LAP Fellowship, and the Rauschenberg Residency.