San Joaquin of the Weavers

Spider Approximations:
Weaving Worlds

Educator: Carolina Arévalo
Children: Juan José, Camila, Ana Julia, Francisco, Elena & Alfredo
San Joaquin’s landscape presents two disparate or divergent worlds including the traditional agriculturally-based areas and the newly built modern homes often enclosed in gated communities. This is also the land of multiple generations of basket weavers and other traditional artisans who continue to make a living as their land is transformed aesthetically. San Joaquin is made out of the contrast that emerges in the encounter of these two worlds: the beautiful green farmland fields and the manicure home gardens. A short stroll brings us to the Yanuncay river which together with the Tomebamba river runs down from higher elevations in the Andes. It is commonly known as the least altered of the four rivers of Cuenca.  However, at a closer look, the river is reconstructed with endless stone borders that channel water to the local farms and artisans. Through these channels, the river provides for communities in a multitude of ways.

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San Joaquin is a semi-rural area of Cuenca in the process of gentrification. The garden where we dwell is surrounded by pristine lawns and tennis courts. Two intermingling worlds are present in San Joaquin. Down the street there are a few remnants of old San Joaquin – small farms, and craft shops where residents continue to work with natural fibers such as zuro and duda. As we take our daily walks within the garden and then outside the garden to the river, we notice the many eucalyptus trees and how spiders’ webs are woven around them. 

As we start to take walks among dead and dry eucalyptus trunks on the bank of the Yanuncay river, we realize that they are abundant with life. Various species including spiders, fungi, plants, blackberries, insects such as ants, bees, and beetles are visible in the decaying logs.

 

Those trunks are old eucalyptus trees, and although they are dead, they are full of life – Francisco

The children speculate the possibilities of how these lives inhabit and move with eucalyptus by taking on the role of a spider with their bodies.
As the children clumsily embody spiders, we start to imagine how spiders position themselves around the large sinuous trunks.
Along these trunks, the children navigate  and approach them with caution.

Spiders like dark and warm places to build their houses
– Ana Julia

The other critters must be careful of the cobwebs because they are very strong and sticky
– Alfredo

 

Juan José stumbles from log to log attempting to mimic the spider: “Spiders jump from log to log looking for the perfect place for their web

  Story-telling

We tell many stories about the lives that the spiders encounter as we attempt to embody their movements. We imagine the insects’ fears, desires, and even their conversations.

The fly was wrong and thought there was no danger but, when it entered, it found the spider that ate it – Elena  

Elena portrays her version of the events that were earlier seen inside a log by drawing a spider with charcoal. She places a branch of eucalyptus onto her picture. The branch, she suggests, is a spider home. The spider is safe from attack, Elena notes as she partially covers the arachnid. 

The dark charcoal pieces of eucalyptus trunk help us to think about how darkness makes a home for the spiders.

Inspired by darkness, Alfredo reminds us of a deep hole where spiders dwell in the garden and refers to darkness and the affordances of the dark tunnel as necessities in deceiving prey. 
Ana Julia, on the other hand, is thinking closely with how darkness gives spiders a feeling of safety and comfort: “The spider is working hard on its web because it is his home”.

The spider hides in her home and eats inside and it is very dark.
– Ana Julia 

As we continue thinking about the life of spiders outside the dark dwellings, we notice how the spiders catch prey. Inspired by an encounter with a bee, beetle and web, our stories quickly start to question ‘happy endings’.  We notice the spiders’ complex connections and dependencies.
Ana Julia: Poor bee, the spider is eating him.
Alfredo: Yes, but if the spider does not eat something, it dies too.

We encounter a web in the sunlight and notice how this solitary spider is very focused and creates diagonal strands across the eucalyptus branches. Further along, we see a shaky spider balancing on a strand while weaving a particular circular pattern. We start to wonder how the spider’s process, and the ways in which the individual strands are intentionally spread out, attract many insects. 

This is the best way to make a spider web because it catches more food.
– Francisco

Yes, and it’s almost transparent and the bugs are confused and can’t see it.
– Camila

We find many ways where life or death is negotiated, for those who inhabit these trunks. Using our bodies, we imagine various movements that the spiders and other insects might make, and the shape these movements take when  the insects are stuck and doomed in the web. As we wrap ourselves in fabric, we envision a web that each insect must navigate by closing or opening their bodies. 

The spider looks for the best way to catch her food. – Caro

The butterfly knows that if it makes an effort, it will be able to escape. – Elena

The ant is very small and stays stuck. – Juan José

We add yarn to the web which infuse the space with obstacles. Body movements become restricted and a cluster of bodies attempt to move in unison. We notice bodies becoming sticky as they toss and turn. Engulfed in the fabric, the children attempt to move in aggravation, as they imagine how insects might feel in cobwebs.

Owh! Don’t move so much that the fabric sticks to you and you kick me! – Camila Mora

I just move and the fabric moves with me because it catches me. – Francisco

That’s how uncomfortable bugs must feel when they can’t escape. – Alfredo Sánchez

We call these encounters, sticky moments, where we are provoked to move in unison and are almost cohesive with others, while occassionally colliding into each other. 

Mimicking and weaving our way along the web

On a walk, Elena takes a stick and accidentally punctures the web of a spider. Perplexed by this outcome, we wonder together about our responsibility to the web and the spider and if there is some way we can help the arachnid rebuild its home. Elena becomes very worried she has broken the spider’s web. A discussion arises about whether humans have the capacity to mimic the spider’s work. 

Can we really make a web worthy enough for a spider to choose as its home?

Only spiders can make spider webs.
– Juan José

We can try making one, maybe it will be useful for spiders.
– Camila

We attempt to weave our way through the old eucalyptus log by knotting in the center with yarn  and using the edges of the trunk to catch the hemp. As the children weave, their conversations move together with the motions of their weaving into a discussion about the technical aspects of weaving and how the position of the log creates conditions for inhabitation. We also quickly notice that mimicking the web comes with challenges and that the stickiness of webs is hard to grasp. 

The strands must criss-cross, so the spider doesn’t fall.– Juan José

There must be traps for its food.– Alfredo

This spot is perfect because it is close to the berries that attract other insects.- Elena

My string won’t stick to the trunk.– Camila

We return to the yarn web to find out if it served the spider, but there was no spider. 

“I told you spiders like to improve their own webs” Juan José remarks. 
“I think a lot of spiders will like ours because it’s strong and it’s the perfect place to hide” Elena offers.

Perplexed by the questions of how the spider web sticks, we weave our way through the garden in an attempt to find places that might work well with yarn and that other spiders might want to dwell. Francisco watches a fly sticking and then vibrating inside of a spider web, and wonders:

How can we make the thread as sticky as spiders?

We engage in a knotting process and attach dandelions and even honey hoping that the milky and cohesive substances  can attract insects to the yarn

As we create yarn webs we also decide to draw while thinking about the specificities of the spider web design.

When designing webs, some of us think about what would be most helpful and useful for spiders, while others focus more of the aesthetics of the webs. 

The more we draw, the more intricate the webs become. Long circular lines intersect with short vertical and horizontal lines. Different patterns emerge as spiders walk into the web.

Mine is like a maze because it helps the spider catch and eat more and be strong.” – Juan José 

Spider webs have details that make each one entirely different.” – Elena

Fingers and hands create entanglements that mimic the work of spiders. The stickiness of glue, the knotting of yarn and movement of strings focus on the particularities of each spider’s web. We find that this is a process that requires time, thoughts and pauses as we step away when frustrated and return. We also think about the webs’ stickiness and how spiders avoid getting stuck to their own webs.

As we research the cohesive properties of webs, we find that there are actually different types of silk that a spider uses to make its web to avoid getting stuck to it as it pivots on non-sticky strands to build its web.

  “Why don’t spiders stick like my fingers to the thread?” – Ana Julia

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Attending to the intricacies of the web, we weave across the floor. We decide to use two different kinds of yarn, the white string is the resting area for spiders, while the brown string is the sticky and difficult zone.

We embody being a spider trying out the web.

How do spiders cross their webs so fast without sticking?” – Elena

We experiment with different techniques to be able to cross the web without “getting stuck”. Some of us stick to narrow lines, while others choose to spread out between the web to disperse their weight among the web. 

 Human and Arachnid weavers

Because weaving is infused in Cuenca’s culture, we create intersections between arachnid weavers and women weavers. We move back and forth between what we noticed in the making of spider webs and in the making of baskets. Multiple experimentations and stories emerge in this intersection. 

Children take their designs and ideas to their families and together weave patterns relying on inherited weaving knowledge from the mothers, aunties and grandmothers. 

Children share their family weavings and knowledges. 

 – I’m teaching you: that’s what I did with my mom and I used gray and green.

 – My mom taught me to knit like that, and she helped me.

We expose the children to San Joaquin’s weavers. 

Anita visits Ms. Rosario who lives down the road and has been weaving since she was a child. They film Ms. Rosario as she weaves her beautiful patterns. This film becomes the focus of our attention as the children watch Ms. Rosario’s weaving hands next to a spider in the garden. We notice similarities such as the initial star-like structure followed by circular strands woven throughout. 

Initially, we work together on smaller webs, in an attempt to avoid the shakiness of individual weaving and experiencing the difficulty of doing it. As the educators move and stabilize the base or stick like structures in the web, the children shakily negotiate and cross through areas of the web imperfectly. 

We create a collective spider web out of duda. 

Alfredo and Juan José decide that it would be a good idea to have a plan to weave the duda together. They begin to attempt to delegate tasks. However, they realize that everyone wants to use the scissors, but nobody wants to clean up or sort duda in the baskets. Alfredo makes a suggestion that he understands why spiders prefer to work alone.

After a lot of noise, whispering, laughter, Francisco begins to place the duda in diagonal lines. Ideas start to grow in the the process. 

Elena works alone as she weaves a small basket.  In this case she is inspired by the square pattern. She starts to make a square-like structure and uses glue as a cohesive, sticky force. Later on, Elena incorporates spiders into a weaving story.

She mentions that if you have to weave a square web you need four spiders flying in different directions. The children propose that weaving might be easier if it takes on a circular motion of ins and outs, and they all attempt to make circles themselves. 

Spiders sometimes fly together, in different directions, and weave larger webs that fall on our heads. – Elena

Let’s organize ourselves as a team, so we can do it fast and well done like spiders and those ladies who weave. – Francisco 

We have to use both long and short dudas, just as they do with the baskets. – Alfredo

As Alfredo attempts to weave a basket, he notices that the duda is firm and stiff. Unlike the spiders’ webs and some of the baskets of the weavers, Alfredo’s basket is straight and rectangular. To make the basket sticky, the children decide to use string to tie the duda and keep it upright. Panchito mentions that the weavers wet the duda to soften it, and the children wonder if spiders also work with water substances in the garden. 

Attempting to weave with spiders and other weavers opens up new ways to slow down and notice the particularities, temporalities and deliberations that one must make in creating processes...