Monday, October 25, 2010

The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef or Why Math and Handicraft Go Hand In Hand

An artist and a scientist are sitting at a bar. The scientist says “There’s no money in public schools anymore. They should cut art from the curriculum.” The artist says, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” The scientist says “Well, are you saying science should get cut?” and the artist answers “No, but neither should art. They are equally important.”

Want more proof artisans are more evolved than most? Okay, twist my arm… When it comes to space in mathematics, I am currently obsessed with hyperbolic space. An alternate theory to Euclid geometry and Spherical geometry, hyperbolic geometry has a negative curvature. I could go on for hours. I won’t. Now, what I do find interesting about hyperbolic space is that critics accepted it in 1868, and paper models illustrating hyperbolic space were created, but they could not move and tangibly illustrate hyperbolic space. In fact, many in the ol’ boys math club thought a tactical rendering of hyperbolic space simply couldn’t be made. But then, in 1997, mathematician Daina Taimina called upon her childhood in Latvia and learning to crochet and knit, and realized the equation could be illustrated through increasing the number of stitches in rows in crochet. Margaret Wertheim says, “So here, in wool, through a domestic feminine art, is the proof that the most famous postulate in mathematics is wrong.” SNAP! Bet those math boys could have figured that out sooner if they had given any thought to the clothes their mamas made them.

But wait! There’s more! In 2006, Margaret and Christine Wertheim, sisters from Australia, started crocheting hyperbolic space models as a commentary to the detrimental affect climate change has Great Barrier Reef. Turns out coral, sea slug, and leafy greens all have something in common: hyperbolic geometry. Since the inception of the project 5 years ago, it has been shown in a ton of galleries, and has had a fuck TON of people crochet and contribute to the piece. Satellite pieces have also been made. White reefs have been made to illustrate the bleaching that occurs in coral when it dies. Reefs have been crocheted out of plastic bags to illustrate pollution problems. The Wertheim sisters are literally and physical playing with ideas in a space where mathematics, marine biology, feminine handicraft and environmental activism collide. If you are lucky enough to live in the DC area, or are visiting, go check out the reef, which is on display at the Smithsonian. My wife just went and sent me pictures, which, I guess since I no longer live in the district, must suffice.


  1. I could have just as easily titled this post "why Colleen thinks she far superior to most and yet has no proof..." but that's besides the point. focus on the jellyfish!

  2. How did she manage to take pictures inside the Smithsonian! By using the pen-cam I assume.

  3. ha! the beauty of a smart phone. all i know is they are too smart for me. ;)

  4. I actually saw this woman speak at a stitch and wool conference in Portland last year...amazing!