ARTEFACT 04

Provenance: years of half-heard, fragmentary explications of history; a personal skew 

 

The republic sat on the periphery of east and west, a neitherness that both endangered and engendered its national identity. Continual fear of invasion led people towards the stubborn maintenance of intangible traditions; tendencies around singing, family, belief and feasts (the hard-to-quantify, harder to erase). 

 

The republic always had a porosity, a flow of goods. It constituted a vital node in the network that volleyed trade products half way across the world. This system was foundational to the development of the republic’s cultural identity. 

 

A late 19th century museum in the city continues bears the signs of this exchange. Pressed mulberry leaves and empty silk cocoons line the cabinets of its dark central hall, a configuration that has sat largely unchanged for more than a century. 

 

The museum now rests as a monument. Silk was once an important export, but petered out with the industrial production demands of a communist state that took hold several decades after the museum was built. These days, silkworm cultivation is a rarefied craft that has all but left local production. But how about the process? 

 

Silkworms spin their heads in a figure-of-8 motion as they work on the development of their cocoons. When we think of life lines, or mortality, there may be an underlying tendency to imagine a continuous, modulating thread that is ruptured at the point of death; an A-to-B, a singular journey between two points, as a heart rate monitor would indicate. Notions of thread and weaving have long held sway as descriptors for a network; a ‘deep metaphor’ for life/connection as an antonym to death/chaos. 

 

The human manufacturing system for silk suggests a potential corroboration between death as the precondition for continuity. After being fattened on a diet of nutritious mulberry leaves, the captive silkworm intuits that it needs to weave a cocoon. The silkworm moves its head in a singular rhythm, distributing strand-like threads of saliva back and forth; the structure elicits a figure-of-8 motion that is also reminiscent of an infinite loop. After it has fulfilled its task of weaving the cocoon, the human facilitator typically boils the cocoon, killing the pupae within. This is the only method by which to harvest a continuous strand of thread, which will then be wound upon a reel and eventually fashioned into textiles. 

 

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The notion of a continuous feedback loop, a figure of 8, is suddenly severed, revoked, and massaged into a strand that furthers its way into a new existence in another country and in another guise; dyed, woven, wefted, warped and glossed. We might say that the 8 becomes an &, an ampersand; a line that can be ironed out, made linear and put to use; the extension of an entry point for human enterprise. 

 

This singular process can be imagined as an algorithm, a series of commands to match against the all-consuming system of modern goods production and exchange. In light of data on the extreme environmental degradation that has resulted from our current globalised system of trade, we might say that the micro of silkworm production — the very namesake of the silk road, which constituted the preliminary threads of this trade — reflects the macro of our current state; the system’s continuity predicates itself on a paradoxical destruction of the basis by which it can operate. The linear streak foregoes its own conclusion. 

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