Underwater Ecosystems Come to Life in Crocheted Coral Reefs

A show at the MAD Museum by two Australian sisters features a life-like sea of crocheted marine life.

An intricate crocheted coral reef has reached another level of crafting grandiosity in its tenth year of development. The spectacle, named Crochet Coral Reefs: TOXIC SEAS, is the passion project started in 2005 by Margaret and Christine Wertheim, twin sisters and artistic partners. The exhibit tunes into the distressed state of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, rendering a myriad of coral formations from those in good health to those ailing. Drawing upon the environmental issue, the artists choose a source of inspiration that is not only close to their hearts (both Margaret and Christine are Australian natives) but revives the art of algorithmic crocheting.

Crochet art is a complicated beast, driven by a basic pattern, or algorithm, which eventually leads to a precise and geometric shape. The Wertheims say, "Crochet and other handicrafts, like knitting and tatting, are the original 'digital' technologies'—they're created by manipulating our digits. Historically the origins of computer punchcards are in the punchcards used for weaving. We see our work on the Crochet Coral Reef [TOXIC SEAS] as fitting into this history—it's about feminine handicraft and equally about the power of algorithms."

“It’s also about mathematics because the frilly crenelated forms we construct are representations of hyperbolic geometry,” the sisters continue. “We're using this alternative mathematical model, just as nature does because real corals and other reef organisms are biological manifestations of hyperbolic surfaces.”

They say, “It’s ironic that brainless corals have been making hyperbolic structures for hundreds of millions of years, yet human mathematicians spent hundreds of years trying to prove this was impossible. It’s literally fantastic how much complex math is embedded in nature."

The project is partnered with the Institute For Figuring, a non-profit focusing on naturally occurring art and manipulated art from scientific phenomena.

TOXIC SEAS shows at Museum of Arts and Design in New York beginning September 30, 2016 until February 5, 2017. The collection is featured within a larger exhibition highlighting artists who transform traditional mediums. Find more details about the exhibit, here.  


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