Crochet Coral Reef: TOXIC SEAS opens at MAD, NYC


Tonight is the opening party for our new exhibition Crochet Coral Reef: TOXIC SEAS by Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring, at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC. The show is a stunning triumph of handicraft, plastic trash and feminism. More news and gorgeous photos coming soon.


IFF wins the AxS Award for art and science

On September 21, 2016, the Institute For Figuring was awarded the annual art and science, AxS Award by the Pasadena Arts Council. Margaret and Christine Wertheim were delighted to accept this honor, which has previously been granted to such luminaries as JPL’s artist-in-residence Dan Goods, land-artist Lita Albequeque, and Lorne Buchman president of Art Center College of Design.

Awards webpage


Coral reefs may not survive global warming

hgh-res-green reefA decade ago when they started the Crochet Coral Reef project, Christine and Margaret Wertheim joked that if the Great Barrier Reef ever died out, the crochet reef would be something to remember it by. New research compiled by the international agency Climate Analytics now warns that indeed most coral reefs won’t survive a 2˚C rise in temperature, and the world is on target to break that limit. If reefs are to make it through, the researchers say, humans need to restrict global warming to no more than 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels, which, they note, would at least allow “some chance for a fraction of the world’s coral reefs to survive.” 1.5˚C is probably an impossible goal, requiring carbon emissions to peak by the end of this decade then radically decline, with a future “carbon budget” of just 250 billion tonnes of CO2. That’s approximately six years worth of our present emissions. This sobering news comes as the IFF is preparing for our Crochet Coral Reef: Toxic Seas exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design in NY, opening September 15, 2016. The historic photo above was one of the Wertheim’s first handicraft reefs, dating to 2006, just as scientists were beginning to link reef degradation to climate change.


Physics, religion and South Park

Sometimes things go awry. Especially on South Park, the belovedly irreverent cartoon series, of which we at the IFF are fans. How delightful to see that this hilarious Wisecrack video about the representation of religion in South Park features a discussion of IFF director Margaret Wertheim’s book “Pythagoras’ Trousers”, which posits a history of the relationship between physics and religion. Plus you get an animation of Margaret and South Park creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, doing a googly-eyed dance together.


Crochet Coral Reef in e-flux

In an insightful article in e-flux magazine Rebekah Sheldon discusses the Crochet Coral Reef project as an exemplar of the recent interest among feminist and queer studies scholars in moving away from universal theorizations towards acknowledgement of the epistemic power of the particular. Entitled “Queer Universal,” Sheldon’s piece hails the virtues of attending to such “particular forms of life” as “lightning, atoms, jellyfish … extinct aurochs, wooly coral reefs … and transgender frogs.” The IFF is delighted to find ourselves in such company, both on the page and behind it. Sheldon’s article draws also on a recent essay about the Crochet Coral Reef project by trans-studies theorist Jeanne Vaccaro “Feelings and Fractals: Wooly Ecologies of Transgender Matter” published in the journal GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies.

Queer Universal
e-flux: Journal #75, 05/2016

About the author: Rebekah Sheldon, an assistant professor in the English Department at Indiana University Bloomington, is a scholar of feminist philosophy, queer theory, the new realisms, and contemporary American literature, culture, and popular rhetoric.


Science Show with Robyn Williams

On the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s beloved Science Show with Robyn Williams, IFF director Margaret Wertheim speaks about corals, carbon and the cosmos. Thanks for a lovely interview with reporter Alexandra de Blas.


American Association of Physics Teachers Award

IFF Director Margaret Wertheim has been awarded the 2016 Klopsteg Memorial Lecture Award by the American Association of Physics Teachers. On July 18, 2016, Margaret will deliver her lecture at the AAPT’s annual meeting in Sacramento. This is the first time since 2006 the award has been given to a woman. Previous honorees include Harvard theoretical physicist Lisa Randal (2006), Lee Smolin (former director of the Perimeter Institute and the inventor of loop quantum gravity, an alternative to string theory) and Neil de Grasse Tyson (director of the Hayden Planetarium).

About the Klopsteg Award
Named for Paul E. Klopsteg, a former President and long-time member of AAPT, the Klopsteg Memorial Lecture Award recognizes outstanding communication of the excitement of contemporary physics to the general public.


World Ocean Day


Today is World Ocean Day, and the IFF salutes marine life everywhere. This picture shows corals growing around plastic trash on a pier at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, an elegiac reminder of the stresses these wondrous organisms are facing and the need for us all to confront our run-away use of plastic. This Fall, the IFF’s Crochet Coral Reef project will be exhibited at the Museum of Arts and Design in NY, with a specially curated focus on plastic trash and coral bleaching.


On Being a Woman in Science

Margaret Wertheim drawing hyperbolic diagrams at the "Reefs, Rubbish and Reason" exhibition, Art Center College of Design, 2012.

IFF Director Margaret Wertheim writes: “Given the many stories that have been coming out recently about sexual harassment of young women in science, I decided to write a piece about my own experiences with this. It’s out now in AEON. This is the first time I’ve publicly discussed what caused me to leave academic science. Since then I’ve spent 35 years as a science writer, author and exhibition curator, trying to find ways to make the public representation of science more sensitive to, and appealing to women. My work with the Crochet Coral Reef project results from this impulse, as did the columns I wrote for 10 years about science and technology for Australian women’s magazines such as Vogue and Elle.”


Coral Bleaching

2015_06_MIA025 (photo credit-Margaret Wertheim, IFF) copy

The “Bleached Reef” by the Institute For Figuring. Photographed at the exhibition “Night Begins the Day” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, 2015.

The world’s coral reefs are experiencing the largest bleaching episode ever recorded. Rising water temperatures are now threatening more than a third of the Earth’s reefs and coral experts say it is possible reefs may be gone in 25 years. The effects of the current El Nino (making the last 2 years the hottest on record), are being compounded by underlying global warming and other anomalous climate events. Hardest hit has been the Great Barrier Reef. During a recent aerial survey of 520 sub-reefs in its northern section, scientists at Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Task Force found that only 4 showed no sign of bleaching. More than 600 miles of the GBR’s previous glory has been turned into aquatic boneyards. [See photo essay.] “This has been the saddest research trip of my life,” says Task Force convener Professor Terry Hughes.

In this time of urgency, the IFF’s Crochet Coral Reef project remains ever-more timely; a synthesis of art and science that also calls attention to the potency of community-based action. In Fall 2016 the Crochet Coral Reef will be on exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design in NY. Included will be our Bleached Reef, a feminine handicraft elegy to the currently unfolding environmental tragedy.

Crocheted strawberry anemones (by Margaret Wertheim) nestling in the Bleached Reef, by the Institute For Figurirng. Pictured at the Jewish Contemporary Museum, San Francisco, 2015.

Crocheted strawberry anemones (by Margaret Wertheim) nestling in the “Bleached Reef” by the Institute For Figuring. Photographed at the exhibition “Night Begins the Day: An Exploration of Space, Time and Wonder” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, 2015.