EXPLODE EVERY DAY: An Inquiry into the Phenomenon of Wonder
@ MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA
May 28, 2016 – February 28, 2017

Crochet Coral Reef
@ the University of California, Santa Cruz
February 10 – May 6, 2017


Crochet Coral Reef
@ Museum of Arts and Design, New York
September 15, 2016 – January 22, 2017

Night Begins the Day
@ the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco
June 18 – Sept 20, 2015

Crochet Coral Reef
@ Southwest School of Art, San Antonio, TX
February 12 – April 26, 2015

Crochet Coral Reef
@ New York University Abu Dhabi Institute, UAE
September 28 – December 5, 2014

making space
@ Google Venice Offices, Los Angeles
October 2013 – February 2014

Science + Art Residency:  Being Formed
@ Institute For Figuring, Los Angeles
July – December, 2013

An Alternative Guide to the Universe
@ Hayward Gallery, London
June 11 – August 26, 2013

Out of Fashion
@ GL Holtegaard Museum, Copenhagen
April 2013 – Jan 2014

making space
@ Institute For Figuring, Los Angeles
December 15, 2012 – June 29, 2013

Physics on the Fringe
@ Institute For Figuring, Los Angeles
April 14 – November 10, 2012

Mosely Snowflake Sponge Exhibition
@ The USC Libraries
September 20, 2012 – January 30, 2013

Midden Project
@ The New Children's Museum, San Diego, CA
October 15, 2011 –September 15, 2013

The Logic Alphabet of Shea Zellweger
@ The Museum of Jurassic Technology
Opening reception March 3, 2007 – March 3, 2012

@ The Walker Art Center
April 24 – September 29, 2009

Inventing Kindergarten
@ Art Center College of Design, Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery
October 13, 2006 – January 7, 2007

Hyperbolic Cactus Garden + Hyperbolic Kelp Garden
@ Fair Exhange, during the LA County Fair, Pomona Fairgrounds
September 8 – October 1, 2006

The Business Card Menger Sponge
@ Machine Project, Los Angeles
Los Angeles – August 26 – September 24, 2006

Crocheting the Hyperbolic Plane
@ Machine Project, Los Angeles
Los Angeles – July 2005

Philosophical Toys
@ Apex Art, New York
June/July 2005

Lithium Legs and Apocalyptic Photons
@ The Santa Monica Museum of Art
April 20 – June 9, 2002


Crochet Coral Reef Exhibitions

Hyperbolic: Reefs, Rubbish, and Reason
@ The Williamson Gallery, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA
June 6 – August 21, 2011

Crochet Reef
@ The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC
October 16, 2010 – April 24, 2011

Crochet Reef
@ The Science Gallery, Dublin
March 20, 2010 – June 11, 2010

The IFF "Bleached Reef"
@ The National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt, NYC
May 14, 2010 – January 9, 2011

Crochet Cactus Garden
Jackson Hole, WY
June 26 – September 28, 2009

Crochet Reef
Scottsdale, AZ
April 11 – July 11, 2009

Crochet Reef Show
@ Track 16 in Los Angeles
Jan 10 – Feb 28, 2009

New York and Chicago Reefs
Staten Island
Sept 27 – Dec 20, 2008

UK Reef Tour
Autumn 2008

Plastic Exploding Inevitable Reef
San Francisco
Sept 7 – Oct 3, 2008

Crochet Reef Symposium
@ Southbank Center
Friday June 13, 2008

Crochet Reef
June 11 – August 17, 2008

Crochet Reef
New York
April 6 – May 18, 2008

The Crochet Cactus Garden
@ The Wignall Museum, Chaffey College
January 29 – March 1, 2008

The Crochet Cactus Garden
@ The David Weinberg Gallery
October 26 – December 29, 2007

The Crochet Coral Reef
@ The Chicago Cultural Center
October 13 – December 16, 2007

The Crochet Coral Reef
@ The Andy Warhol Museum
March 11 – June 17, 2007


Exhibition Dates: October 13 - December 16, 2007
See Here for photos of Chicago Reef
See Here for photos of Chicago Toxic Reef


Chicago Cultural Center – The Chicago Rooms
78 East Washington Street
Chicago, IL 60602

This exhibition is presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs
in association with the Chicago Humanities Festival
and the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum

IFF crochet coral atoll.

In association with the Chicago Humanities Festival, the Institute For Figuring Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef is showing this Fall at the Chicago Cultural Center. Each year the Humanities Festival is organized around a thematic principle, with this year's theme being Climate of Concern. As a work inspired by the devastating effects of global warming, the IFF Crochet Reef represents the theme at a major exhibition accompanying the Festival. On show are six new crochet sub-reefs, including a large new atoll formation. In addition to the IFF reefs, the exhibition includes a wondrous sister-reef crocheted by the citizens of Chicago - an effort that has been orchestrated by the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum.

Associated Lectures and Events with the Chicago Humanities Festival:

October 27: Stitches in Times - Preserving Coral Reefs. Presentation with IFF co-director Margaret Wertheim and coral reef expert Dr Nancy Knowlton from the Smithsonian Institution.

October 28: Women Artists and the Environmental Movement. Panel discussion moderated by IFF co-director Christine Wertheim with artists Ann Hamilton and Tara Donovan, and feminist art critic Lucy Lippard. [Further information about these events may be seen at CHF website - www.chfestival.org]

During the exhibition, the Windy City Knitting Guild will conduct hyperbolic crochet workshops in the gallery.

The Chicago Reef has been curated for the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum by Catherine Chandler

Hyperperbolic crochet kelp forms by Anitra Menning, Evelyn Harding and Sarah Simons

IFF Crochet Reef Crafters:
Christine Wertheim (Los Angeles, CA), Margaret Wertheim (Los Angeles, CA), Sarah Simons (Culver City, CA), Evelyn Hardin (Cedar Hill, TX), Helen Bernasconi (Bonnie Doon, Australia), Marianne Midelburg (Bengido, Australia), Helle Jorgensen (Sydney, Australia), Barbara Wertheim (Melbourne, Austalia), Daina Taimina (Ithaca, NY), Heather McCarren (Santa Cruz, CA), Anitra Menning (Los Angeles, CA), Shari Porter (Rialto, CA), Vonda N. McIntyre (Seattle, WA), Ildiko Szabo (Liverpool, England), Inga Hamilton (Bangor, Northern Ireland), Nancy Lewis (Vermont). With Paula Peng, Allie Gerlach, Spring Pace, David Orozco, Karen Frazer, Karen Page, Lynn Latta, Clare O’Callaghan.

And coming soon! Beaded hyperbolics by Rebecca Peapples (Ann Arbor MI) and The Other Coral Reef by Dr. Axt (Portland, OR).

The Crochet Reef Project has been assisted by grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Annenberg Foundation.

With sincerest thanks to: Lawrence Weschler and Amanda Burr (Chicago Humanities Festival), Valentine Judge and Rob Lentz (Chicago Cultural Center), Lisa Yun Lee and Catherine Chandler (Jane Addams Hull-House Museum).

More information about the IFF Crochet Reef Project may be seen in our extensive online exhibit.

Hyperbolic coral forms by Christine Werthiem and Barbera Wertheim. All photos by Alyssa Gorelick


Chicago Tribune

Chicago Reader

Chicago Sun Times

Chicago Cultural Center – Gallery Guide Essay
By Margaret Wertheim and Christine Wertheim

“We could crochet a coral reef,” Christine had mused, pointedly using the conditional tense while the woolly forms piled higher on our sideboard. We innocently put an announcement on the Institute For Figuring website seeking crafters to join us in this potential hyperbolic undertaking. From around the globe pictures started to arrive by email, then packages in the post. Helen Bernasconi, a former mathematics teacher and computer scientist, now sheep farmer in Bonnie Doon, Australia, sent in a fan-like form budding with hyperbolic curlicues made from wool she had sheared from her sheep, then spun and dyed herself. A Hungarian graphics designer in Liverpool, England, Ildiko Szabo, posted a shoebox of pastel-colored anemones. Heather McCarren, a PhD candidate in geoscience, mailed in a collection of tiny mercerized cotton florets. The tectonic plates of our continent shifted when Vonda McIntyre, the author of a novel about Louis XIV’s encounter with a sea monster, emailed photographs of her beaded jellyfish and flatworms.

Hooked now, we began trawling on Flickr and discovered Helle Jorgensen, a former research geneticist, who had given up academic science for a life of handicraft and beachcombing; Helle was crocheting sea creatures from plastic bags. A net search revealed that we were not the only ones hand-making coral. In the Australian town of Bendigo, Marianne Midelburg had already crocheted her own reef from yarns scavenged in thrift stores and junkyards; in Vienna, Petra Maitz was presiding over the “Lady Musgrave Reef”; in the 1960’s, Helen Lancaster had preceded us all with her appliquéd “Coral Forest.”

Each of these new outcrops realizes potentialities we had not even guessed at. In Rialto, CA, Shari Porter crochets hyperbolic forms guided by the Holy Spirit; latter day versions of the Shakers’ “gift drawings.” In Boston, Rebecca Peapples makes miniature marvels of beaded Byzantine splendor, while in Cedar Hill, Texas, Evelyn Hardin crafts a steady stream of woolly mutants seemingly coughed up from the stomach of some bilious leviathan.

Every person who takes up this craft creates new species of crochet organisms and we have come to see the project as a collective experiment in textile-based evolution. Just as all living creatures result from variations in an underlying DNA code, so the species in these handi-crafted reefs arise from deviations in a single simple algorithm. Slight variations in the kind of yarn, changes in the rate of increasing stitches, even shifts in crochet tension make significant differences to the morphology of the finished form. Sarah Simons in Culver City has invented an entire taxonomy of “radiolarians” by combining the insights of hyperbolic crochet with traditional doilies patterns.

HYPERBOLIC CROCHET was itself the outgrowth of an unexpected branch of geometry. For two thousand years mathematicians attempted to prove that the only possible geometries were the flat, or Euclidean, plane, and the sphere. Great minds expended themselves on the effort, only to discover in the nineteenth century that a third option was logically necessitated. The discovery of this new “hyperbolic space” ushered in the field of non-Euclidean geometry, the mathematics underpinning general relativity, which aims to describe the shape of the cosmos. Mathematicians’ skepticism about hyperbolic space had been based in part on their inability to imagine how it would look, for they had no way to model it physically. Most were thus astounded when, in 1997, Dr. Daina Taimina, a Latvian émigré at Cornell University, presented a hyperbolic structure made with crochet.

Nature, meanwhile, had discovered the form in the Silurian age. Lettuces and kales - the crenellated vegetables - are manifestations of nearly hyperbolic surfaces, while in the oceans, corals, kelps, sponges, nudibranchs and flatworms all exhibit hyperbolic anatomical features. And so a woolly manifestation of a reef is not as unlikely as may first be supposed. Through the lens of crochet we may thus discern a hitherto unsuspected line connecting Euclid to sea slugs. Ways of constructing once perceived as “merely” women’s craft, and dismissed from the cannon of scientific practice, now emerge as revelatory forms of a more complex, embodied way of thinking about the world both mathematically and physically.

“EVERTHING has been created out of sea-mucous, for love arises from the foam” wrote the German polymath Lorenz Oken in his Elements of Physiophilosophy, a poetico-scientific account of evolutionary processes that preceded Darwin by nearly half a century. From simple mucul protoplasts, Oken imagined the spectrum of life unfolding over the eons. Coral reefs, too, are generated from protoplasmal seeds: On a single night, timed to the cycles of sun and moon, whole sections of reef release gametes into the water in a mass-synchronized spawning ritual. These spectacular displays allow sessile coral polyps, which cannot move themselves to disperse offspring over vast distances. So too crochet reefs send out spawns. Starting from an initial garden of anemones and kelp, the IFF and our contributors have now produced a variety of different sub-reefs, while other crafters have been inspired to their own fully formed wonders: among them, the mysterious Dr Axt in Portland, Inga Hamilton in Belfast, and Barbara Wertheim in Melbourne. The Chicago Reef exhibited here is a magnificent result of this spawning, a communal triumph created by more than a hundred Windy City women, who have each, as it were, inhaled a hyperbolic spore.

But this collective celebration is motivated also by an ecological urgency, for coral is being devastated by global warming, agricultural run-off, urban effluent and marine pollutants. 3000 square kilometers of living reef are lost every year, nearly five times the rate of rainforest elimination. Ironically, as reefs disappear a sinister substitute is growing beneath the waves: In the north Pacific ocean the world’s plastic garbage is accumulating, fifty years of plastic trash building into a vortex twice the size of Texas and 30 meters deep. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as it is known, is a ghastly analog to the Great Barrier Reef, an aquatic “wonder” of appalling dimensions that continues to accrete. To highlight this monstrosity and our own role in its making, the latest spawn of the IFF is a toxic reef called Bikini Atoll - a hybrid assemblage made from yarn and plastic garbage. Our challenge for the future – and the reason we have chosen to exhibit this work– is to help raise awareness of this plastic problem, an ecological cancer whose stain will mar our planet’s face for geological time.