House of Cocoons - Project Seliculture
Echigo-Tsumari Art triennial 2006
It has been more than decades since Echigo-Tsumari, a land once prospered for its silkworm raising industry (seliculture) had ceased its operation. Through collaboration with seasoned sericulturist community of Yomogihira, the project brings the lost art of silkworm raising and the spirit of its heydays back in life.
The process and cocoons (ma-yu) as its outcome embodied in diverse dimensions presented will not only reincarnate the fading past of the community but also sheds light to the collective memory we as Japanese all share in bottoms of our hearts.
1. Exhibit Components
① Installation Works
Exhibit A: Raindrops in the middle of night
Sounds of silkworms (kai-ko) consuming mulberry leaves resemble raindrops. Any open floors of houses once raised silkworms were covered with mulberry leaves to foster their precious insects – even right up to their pillows. In the silence of nights, the sound filled the entire house.
Exhibit B: Among the clouds
A 1:500 scale diorama of the Yomogihira Village covered with Floss Silk (ma-wata). Houses illuminated are made of cocoons. It symbolizes the essence of strong ties in this community as home of silkworm raising from yesteryear - and also envisioned as an image we share with the owner of this house who passed away in June last year.
Exhibit C: Sending out to sky
Silkworms were bred by our ancestors and fading through decline of its industry today in our country. Here, cocoons in motion of arc towards open light lead our views to the sky above Yomogihira - a sense of mourn and solace.
② Video Art
YOMOGIHARA - Memories of mayu (silkworms)
A tribute to Yomogihira - once home of the silkworm raising industry - presented through its scenic charms in various seasons, profiles of living community and process of the project. (Visual work by Maki Inoue)
③ Sound Art (to Go)
The Rain Silently Shakes the Mulberry leaves
Sounds of Yomogihira - “Raindrops (= sound of silkworms grazing mulberry leaves)” featured in “Raindrops in the middle of night” and “Memories of mayu” for you to bring back home. CD covers are made of Floss Silk produced in Yomogihira.
2. About Silkworm Raising (Seliculture)
Producing raw silk from cocoon, seliculture was once in operation throughout Japan. But due to competition with foreign products and floundering kimono industry (traditional Japanese garment or dress which raw silks were used), its existence has been in decline.
Here in Yomogihira community, almost all the family once raised silkworms at home. Since raw silks could be produced four times a year, raising silkworms was a way to secure agricultural community’s household economy. That is why people in this area traditionally called the silkworm “Bo-Bo Sama” – Sama is a suffix used to represent highest respect.
But at the same time, raising silkworm involved dealing with heavy burden of daily collection of mulberry leaves and cleaning of their droppings. Around 1990, with the sharp price fall of cocoon, seliculture industry in Yomogihira was destined to vanish.
For this “Art Fair of the Earth”, community members with seliculture experience managed to revive their tradition which had been lost for more than decades. With the mulberry farms being long gone, they had to collect wild leaves from surrounding mountains. But the specialized tools were still here, and so as their touches - they fostered more then 10,000 cocoons with astonishing skills. Since the silkworms’ appetites grow tremendously as they get ready to turn into cocoons, the operation turned out to be quite heavy duty to say the least.
Lastly, for the children in the community, the process of this project provided their first chance to experience silkworm raising. Records taken by them following the evolution of this project are also presented.