I. Jen Bervin’s Silk Poems

Silk Poems began as a six-year research project developed with expertise from more than thirty international textile archives, medical libraries, nanotechnology and biomedical labs, and sericulture sites. Jen Bervin first visited the Bioengineering Department at Tufts in 2010, where David Kaplan and Fiorenzo Omenetto were working on a new form of the material—reverse-engineered liquefied silk. Among the research outputs from the Tufts group has been a silk biosensor etched nanoscale on clear silk film that can be implanted in the body to provide diagnostic readings. 

Jen Bervin holding a silk cocoon and silk film
Jen Bervin holding a silk cocoon and silk film

Using this research as a springboard, Bervin started to write a poem to be inscribed on a silk biosensor. The poem acts as a talisman, written from the perspective of the silkworm, addressed to the person with the biosensor implanted in their body. From this evolved the first few elements of the Silk Poems project—the nanoimprinted poem in liquefied silk viewed through a microscope, Charlotte Lagarde’s short film and a book published by Nightboat Books.

The inaugural display of work related to Bervin’s Silk Poems was as part of a group show at MASS MoCA (May 2016–April 2017). The solo exhibition of Silk Poems at UMAG (November 2019–February 2020) was scheduled to coincide with the 10th anniversary celebration of the IPNHK literary festival.

Jen Bervin’s Silk Poems -
 Video by Charlotte Lagarde - 10 minutes, 2016

A poem written nanoscale in the form of a silk biosensor, the Silk Poems project takes this ancient textile material as both subject and form, exploring the cultural, scientific, and linguistic complexities of silk imagined inside the body. The project has three components:

  • nanoimprinted poem on silk film (fabricated at Tufts University’s Silk Lab) through a microscope
  • reading version of the poem
  • video on Silk Poems research by Charlotte Lagarde