Millions of spiders, thousands of hours and two golden garments – these are the essential components of the V&A display, ‘Golden Spider Silk’. In this film, the two men behind the display, Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley, explain the how they ended up creating the largest piece of spider silk cloth in the world.
SIMON PEERS: There is a certain madness in launching into something like this, and you could understand why. In 300 years, the very few eccentric people who've tried it have sort of fallen by the wayside because it's just too much really. But that's part of the appeal, the fact that it's such a huge challenge. I think it's motivated both of us to sort of, just, we have to succeed.
NICHOLAS GODLEY: I remember the first time that I sort of held, you know, a large bunch of silk. I had a sort of outer body experience, I couldn't believe how soft and light, yet incredibly strong this material is. It feels unlike anything I've ever touched before.
SP: What you see here is this fantastic yellow colour, which is the golden orb, the product that comes from the spider. We haven't done anything to this; this is the entirely natural produce from the spider.
It's not only the spider in Madagascar, the golden orb family of spiders all produce this wonderful colour which is obviously eponymous to the naming of it. It is extraordinary and it is, as you can see, a fantastic thing.
NG: This cape has taken us about 3 years, and about 1.2 million spiders.
The spiders are collected in the wild, and they’re collected individually, and they’re kept alive, they’re harnessed and then milked, and then they produce between 30 and 50 meters of thread, and then that takes about 25 minutes and then they are released back into nature.
SP: Actually collecting the spiders there are, you know, maybe 60, 70, 80 people every day looking for spiders, so it’s a lot of people out there involved in this story, and then the whole process of actually extracting, “silking” or milking, whatever you like to say for extracting the silk, you know, there are a number of people involved with just that process, and there are another group of people involved with transforming the silk, and then weavers and embroiderers and so forth. All together it’s a large number of people involved, yeah. And very hands on, just to say, very hands on.
This is the invisibility cloak, you literally cannot feel it, it’s quite extraordinary. I think one of the reasons for that is that if you get a cross-section of the silk you can see it’s perfectly cylindrical, the silk, unlike the Chinese Silk Worm which has got this sort of irregular, triangular cross-section. So I mean the choice of the cape was because it’s sort of a familiar garment, but at the same time it’s slightly unfamiliar because not many people actually put capes on. In early childhood you read nursery rhymes and other things which have spiders in. There is something of that fairytale aspect to this I think. There’s a sort of link to the comic book heroes, the super heroes, the cape and the Spiderman, the Batman, I don’t know there is a sort of amusing nod in that direction. But then there’s also, I think there’s an element of ritual about it which I felt was important in this. So you know, it’s sort of like a dalmatic or chasuble of a priestly robe of some sort. It lent itself to one’s imagination in terms of rights and rituals. And also just on a practical level, you know, it’s a large surface which you can then use like a canvas, on the back there’s a very big surface which you can then decorate and adorn or do whatever you like with.
The spider in a lot of mythology and a lot of cultures from ancient cultures saw the spider as the creator of the cosmos, so part of the idea is the spider creating a paradise which is the garden represented by the flowering, so there are lots of little things like that which have inspired what you see here.
NG: When we saw the cape on a human, on a beautiful model for the first time I think, it was an amazing experience. It draped beautifully, it transformed the entire room she was in. It was a very sensual moment, especially here at the V&A.
SP: Seeing it from an “En Tellier” workshop context, and seeing it in the beautiful room here at the V&A with all the guilding and everything else, it was a strange leap from the making to the appreciation. It was a joy, really, a huge joy to see that it was a special moment, it really was.
There is really a fairytale aspect to this and seeing it on the model, I think we both felt it, it did feel like turning the pages in a fairytale.
This isn’t about fashion, this is about creating something extraordinary and magical, and it’s something which is unique. It’s not something you can, you know we’re not using that word glibly, you know there’s no collection in the world that has something like this made by a spider, there’s nothing. It is a one off thing, and in many ways we’re privileged to have been part of something which you can say no one else has done it.
NG: There was a lot of inspiration behind starting this thing to begin with, I think we both realised. One thing is when you have an opportunity to do something completely unique, something which has never been done, it’s a shame not to try it, and this is the spirit in which we got started with it all those years ago.
SP: So two creations in eight years is not a sort of industry, it’s a labour of love, really, to do something like this.