The Institute for Figuring has created quite possibly one of the world’s largest community art projects – the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef. Christine and Margaret Wertheim, the project’s founders, describe their creation as follows:
The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef is a woolly celebration of the intersection of higher geometry and feminine handicraft, and a testimony to the disappearing wonders of the marine world.
The project, a 4,000 square foot (and growing) crocheted reef, is a crafted agglomeration of multiple smaller reef structures, such as the Bleached Reef which is made up of paler colors to represent dying and stressed coral provoked by rising water temperatures, and the Toxic Reef, which is knitted from all plastic materials. The Great Barrier Reef, the original inspiration for the project, is the world’s largest reef and stretches for over 133,000 square miles. But the affects of global warming have already caused catastrophic die-off in one-third of the reef’s area, and biologists argue that even one additional degree of change in sea temperature would be enough to cause extensive coral death around the world.
The Hyperbolic Coral Reef not only comments on the state of coral reefs today and the impact that climate change has on their survival, but also explores the mathematics behind both crochet and natural forms. ‘Hyperbolic crochet’ was discovered in 1997 by Dr. Daina Taimina of Cornell as a way of physically exploring complex fractals in mathematics. As with many other forms of science, these fractals are also mirrored in nature, such as in coral, sponges, and kelp. The Wertheim sisters used this confluence of craft, science, and social awareness to then create the process for their project:
The basic process for making these forms is a simple pattern or algorithm, which on its own produces a mathematically pure shape, but by varying or mutating this algorithm, endless variations and 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.’
The project has engaged over 4,000 individual knitters to create both the main ‘mother’ reef that has been featured in traveling exhibitions since 2007, and satellite reefs that have been started in different communities around the world. Beginning June 7th, the Reef will be on exhibit at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.