The Alchemy of Silk

  • Bio-Mineralizing with Joe Davis (US) 

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    Learn how to bio-mineralize your own transgenic silk

    Mediamatic and Baltan Laboratories proudly present: Bombyx chrysopoeia: The alchemy of silk. A workshop with Boston-based bio-artist Joe Davis, affiliated with MIT and Harvard, USA. An unique opportunity for artists and designers working in the field of bio-art to create their own transgenic silks bio-mineralized with metallic gold!

    The workshop will take place in Mediamatic's Bio Clean Lab. On Thursday 25 August Joe Davis will also give an Artist Talk: Astrobiological Horticulture. This program is a collaboration between Baltan Laboratories and Mediamatic.

    Bombyx Mori Moths
    Joe Davis has created genetically modified silk moths (Bombyx mori), in collaboration with Tara Gianoulis and Mariko Kasuya at Harvard Genetics, and Hideki Sezutsu at the Japanese National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan. He has then borrowed from the principles of alchemy - where ordinary objects are prepared, purified, and processed to become fine and precious as say, gold.

    The Process
    First start with some of Davis’ moths silk, which, in its natural state, contains silicatein - a bio-mineralizing protein drawn from the marine sponge, Tethya aurantia. Did you know that this particular sponge uses silicatein to form its silica (read: glass) endoskeleton from the soluble silica found in seawater? Silicatein will latch onto any other metal in the absence of silica. In these silk moths, the silicatein gene has been fused with the silk protein gene. But, if you want to magick your GM silk into a metallic, precious fabric, you must first strip it bare - “degum” it - to remove the waxy coating of sericin that naturally appears on silks of all kinds. Bathe your fibres in a chelating agent to remove any metal traces accumulated at the cocooning stage and finally infuse your transgenic silks in a heavy metal solution.

    After a little waiting, voilá! You have your very own shining fabric with unprecedented material properties for both art and science applications. Imagine huge blankets of genetically modified silks that can absorb reactor meltdown by-products at nuclear accident sites such Chernobyl and Fukushima! Metallic-gold-spinning-silkworms are the stuff of legend and fantasy. We rely on art to bring dreams to light; oh, to which bright destinations will these silk moths lead?

    A tale of Money Dust
    In the workshop, take a moment to hear Joe Davis tell you the tale of the microbiome of money dust, which he has entitled “Reversals of Fortune." Why? Because the entire bio-mineralization process takes a while so he may as well take the time to tell a yarn or two. Participants can pick up their own fully bio-mineralized silks at the workshop venue after 48-72 hours.

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