Spiders Are the Partners in this 'Inter-Species Collaboration'

Mar 11, 2019

Technological advances have always influenced art. Think synthetic dyes or the invention of photography. Now, artists are diving into the realms of nanotechnology, genetics, and artificial intelligence. And MIT is leading the way. 

One installation at MIT, called Spider’s Canvas, features a three-dimensional spider web that makes sounds. It was one of the works shown during a February 26 symposium at MIT.

According to MIT, Spider’s Canvas is “an exploration that sonifies the threads of a spider web, was designed, constructed, and performed by MIT’s Center for Art, Science, and Technology (CAST) Faculty Director and Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor Evan Ziporyn, Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) PhD student Isabelle Su, CEE department head and McAfee Professor of Engineering Markus Buehler, MIT Music and Theatre Arts lecturer Ian Hattwick, and composer and video artist Christine Southworth ’02. Based on research on spider webs from MIT’s Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics (LAMM), Su, Buehler, and Ziporyn produced an interactive instrument that echoes the parallels of music and materials science.” 

“Civil engineers are so interested in [spider webs] because they're amazing structures,” Leila Kinney told Living Lab Radio. “They’re 3-D structures, without scaffolding, in space. The actual protein in the spider silk has amazing tensile strength as well as elasticity. Wouldn’t it make a great artificial building material?”

Another connection has to do with the origin of the universe, Kinney said.

“When physicists and cosmologists talk about the origin of the universe, they often use the metaphor of a spider's web for what it might have looked like just after the Big Bang,” she said.

The piece, which is now in the Nano Building, is a sonic landscape which functions as either an installation or as a performance, Kinney said.

To help with the project, visiting artist Tomás Saraceno acquired some black widow spiders and brought them into his studio. He even has a ‘spider keeper’ to care for them.

“We call it an inter-species collaboration,” Kinney said.