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Book Review: Crochet Coral Reef by Margaret & Christine Wertheim

Reviewer’s Note: As a participant myself in the very first Coral Reef Project in Chicago, I also featured the project in my book amazon, The Fine Art of Crochet in the section entitled Era of Collaboration.

If you also participated as a crocheter in one of the many and varied Coral Reef around the world, you will want to buy this book which includes YOUR name, as a keepsake! Even if you didn’t crochet a hyperbolic model for the reef, you will want to own this coffee table-style book that is full of colorful fiber art created by activists and collaborations of makers.

The brainchild of sisters, Margaret and Christine Wertheim, this monumental project shined a spotlight on crochet. In 2007, hearing of it taking place in Chicago, I got involved with this thrilling movement that used crochet in such an important way. I was exceedingly proud that crocheters, lending their skills and their passions, could create something so important and unique in ways that can only be achieved with crochet!

After a decade, eight thousand people and a dozen countries have joined together to make an “ever-evolving archipelago of crochet coral reefs and it has become one of the world’s largest community art endeavors.” (Margaret & Christine Wertheim)

“Corals effortlessly build hyperbolic structures but for humans it is not so easy to model these shapes. The best artificial method is crochet. That discovery – made by Cornell mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina  in 1997  – became a seed for the Reef project.”  Reviewer’s note: I was honored that Daina asked me to write a book jacket endorsement! 

Throughout the past decade the process melded expert crafters with novices. “Unequivocal acceptance was the rule. Curators fretted about non-professionalism and participants worried about submission criteria. In the absence of any expelling criteria, a feral energy reigned supreme, and like much ‘outsider' or ‘folk’ art, the Chicago community’s reef harbored a vitality almost impossible for professionally trained artists to muster.”

Through labor-intensive collaborative craft, we call attention to the on-going loss of living ecologies generated through time-intensive collective effort. The Crochet Coral Reef was self-published in 2015, in part because shopping around to established publishers resulted in the editorial caveat that printing the names of 7,000-plus contributors would constitute a ‘waste of paper.’”

Margaret is a science writer, curator and artist in Los Angeles. The Coral Reef Project resulted from her decades-long concern with gender imbalance in science outreach. Her TED talk about the Reef has been viewed more than a million times! Christine ia a poet-performer-artist-critic-curator-crafter-teacher and collaborator based in Los Angeles, as well. Together, they Direct the Institute for Figuring, a non-profit organization which promotes public engagement with the aesthetic and poetic dimensions of science and mathematics. Margaret and Christine were awarded the 2011 Theo Westenberger Award for Artistic Excellence from the AutryNational Center.

The sections, “Science and Mathematics” written by Margaret and “Materiality and Labor” written by Chirstine, constitute a wealth of knowledge as it relates to this project that is both intellectual and inventive.

This book is 206 pages long and can be purchased directly from the Institute for Figuring. The cost is $50.00 and includes postage and handling


Jennie Schumann said…
This is fascinating! I watched the TED talk as well and I love the idea of supporting ecology through art.
Oh, I knew that this was in the works but didn't realize it had been published. Awesome. Definitely going to check it out!

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