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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Crochet Coral Reef Alive and Healthy 25 Years On

Updated: Jan 20


Austrian Frieze (8 meters wide x 2 meters high, 26.25 feet wide x 6.56 feet), was designed by Christine Wertheim and Romina Dodic Szepe, with assistance from the Austrian Satellite Reef curatorial team. Two thousand volunteers contributed to the installation. It is a part of the exhibit, Austria’s Greatest Coral Reef: Crocheted Seas and Other Abstractions, at Schlossmuseum Linz, Austria, until April 2. Its name refers to an ancient coral sea whose fossilized remains are found throughout Upper Austria. (Photo @ Institute for Figuring) 

 

The Crochet Coral Reef is a project of identical twin sisters, artist Christine Wertheim and science writer Margaret Wertheim, of their Institute for Figuring in Los Angeles, according to the project’s website. Its roots are in the fields of mathematics, marine biology, feminine handicraft and environmental activism. The night in 2005 that the sisters conceived of the project, they joked that if the Great Barrier Reef in their home country, Australia -- the world’s largest coral reef system -- ever died out, their handicraft reef may be something to remember it by. This sentiment is no longer a joke.


As the Linz exhibition opened on October 5, 2023, water temperatures around the reef were at their highest, putting vast sections of the reef at risk of coral bleaching. Belize Barrier Reef is second in size to the Great Barrier Reef, which became a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site in 1981. In 1996, Belize Barrier Reef also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After 10 years on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, Belize Barrier Reef was removed in 2018.

 

“Many organisms in coral reefs have a very particular kind of structure,” said Margaret Wertheim, in a TED Talk (April 19, 2009). “The frilly, crenelated forms that you see in corals and kelps and sponges and nudibranchs are a form of geometry known as hyperbolic geometry.

 

“The only way that mathematicians know how to model this structure is with crochet. It’s almost impossible to model this structure any other way, and it’s almost impossible to do it on computers. This sort of geometry revolutionized mathematics when it was first discovered in the 19th century. But not until 1997 did mathematicians actually understand how they could model it.”

 

Pittsburgh Satellite Reef is on exhibit in Pennsylvania until January 26, 2025. A total of 281 volunteers contributed to the installation. (Photo, Courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art)

 

Austrian Satellite Reef – Kreuzstich, inspired by traditional Upper Austrian red and white cross-stitch embroidery (Photo by Michael Maritsch, Courtesy of Schlossmuseum Linz)

 

Five Fathoms Deep (7 meters wide x 3 meters high, 22.97 feet wide x 9.84 feet high) from the Baden-Baden Satellite Reef is also on exhibit in Linz, Austria. Four thousand people contributed to this piece.


“This nexus of art and science, to me, encourages a shift in consciousness of our humanity’s role in the ecological future of our planet,” science writer Margaret Wertheim said in the podcast, On Being with Krista Tippett, recorded before a live audience at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (April 23, 2015).


Since 2005, nearly 25,000 people worldwide have participated in making 52 locally based Satellite Reefs in New York, Chicago, Melbourne, Ireland, Latvia, Germany, Austria, United Arab Emirates and elsewhere.

 

 

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