Spider Silk Exhibit

We had a great evening out at the V&A in London yesterday. My friend Simon Peers had a private viewing of his incredible spider silk textiles – a flat panelled piece and an astonishing cape. The panelled piece has already caused quite a stir in the US, spending time on exhibit in the New York Museum of Natural History and the Chicago Museum of Art, this was the first public viewing of the cape.

Simon’s work has had some great publicity on the UK press over the last few days – the fact that it has taken over 1 million (large!) spiders, and 8 years, to create these beautiful works of art has really captured the public’s imagination. It has been known that spider silk is the strongest natural fibre – with a greater tensile strength than steel – for many years, but despite a range of attempts, nobody other than Simon has managed to figure out how to collect and weave it in any meaningful quantity.

I have been really fortunate to see both of these pieces under construction over the last few years – I always stay with Simon and his family on filming trips to Madagascar, and Simon’s workshop is in the ground floor of his home. The process of collecting the spiders (which are later released into the wild), extracting the silk, spinning, designing and weaving is nothing short of alchemy. To turn boxes of seething spiders into this incredible cloth which seems to glow with its own inner light has a real fairy tale quality.

Simon has written a fantastic book about the history of weaving with spider silk which features some of my photographs of the process. The exhibition runs at the V&A for a couple of months and is really worth a visit – while you are in London check out the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy too, incredible and inspiring.