The Hyperbolic Crocheted Coral Reef

Today I learned of a brilliant publicly engaged project that has been touring the world – currently exhibited and expanding at the Millennium gallery in Sheffield. “The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef (Created and curated by Christine Wertheim and Margaret Wertheim of the Institute For Figuring) is a woolly celebration of the intersection of higher geometry and feminine handicraft, and a testimony to the disappearing wonders of the marine world.”[1]

"Crochet Coral and Anemone Garden" with sea slug by Marianne Midelburg. Photos © The IFF by Alyssa Gorelick.

The work tackles the dangers and effects of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef – and other such wonders that dwell under our seas. Through the celebration of the ‘feminine’ handcraft of crochet and the wondrous geometry and colour that lays below our oceans the piece brings to forefront the necessity of maintaining such natural wonders.

The artists, who grew up in the state of Queensand, began the project in 2005 in their Los Angeles living room, and for the first four years of its life the Reef took over their house, gradually expanding to become the dominant life-form in their home. The project has since expanded into other cities and countries and now has now become a worldwide movement (Chicago, New York and London, to Melbourne, Dublin and Capetown.) The project mainly excites me due to its community engagement as well as its unique fusion of different disciplines – art, science, mathematics, and handicraft and community practice. This project may well soon develop into one of the largest open community engagement projects of all time. The artists invite you to develop a reef in your area. Click here for information about how to start a Satellite Reef.

The inspiration for making crochet reef forms begins with the technique of “hyperbolic crochet” discovered in 1997 by Cornell University mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina. The Wertheim sisters adopted Dr Taimina’s techniques and elaborated upon them to develop a whole taxonomy of reef-life forms. Loopy “kelps”, fringed “anemones”, crenulated “sea slugs”, and curlicued “corals” have all been modelled with these methods. The basic process for making these forms is a simple pattern or algorithm, which on its own produces a mathematically pure shape, but through the variation of this algorithm, endless permutations of shape and form can be produced. The Crochet Reef project thus becomes an on-going evolutionary experiment in which the worldwide community of Reefers brings into being an ever-evolving crochet “tree of life.”[2]

Today, the Crochet Reef has grown far beyond its original incarnation on the Wertheim’s coffee table and is now compiled of many different “sub-reefs,” each with its own colours and styling. Major sub-reefs include the Bleached Reef, the Beaded Reef, the Branched Anemone Garden, the Kelp Garden, and The Ladies’ Silurian Atoll, a ring-shaped installation with close to 1000 individual pieces made by dozens of the most skilled contributors around the world. In addition to these delicate woollen reefs is also a massive Toxic Reef crocheted from yarn and plastic trash – a part of the project that responds to the escalating problem of plastic trash that is inundating our oceans and choking marine life.

Large scale anemone with brain coral head by Margaret Wertheim.

You can find information about these techniques and instructions for making specific forms in a beautifully produced handbook published by the Institute for figuring called A Field Guide to Hyperbolic Space, which may be purchased here: A Field Guide to Hyperbolic Space.

This is an absolutely brilliant project. Why not begin a Hyperbolic Crocheted Reef in your local community?

Orange brain coral with urchins. Imgae courtesy of The Instuitute For Figuring

Click here for information about how to participate further.

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