I was lucky enough earlier this year to visit the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef at Salisbury Arts Centre while the reef was on its tour of Britain. Having caught it just before the end of its stay before its subsequent move to Gloucestershire, I was lucky enough to see all of the fabulous new pieces of crocheted coral to be added in this particular location.
It took me a while to find the arts centre, not being very familiar with Salisbury. It’s a gorgeous city with the tallest Cathedral spire in Britain, along with a beautiful river and markets. Tucked away in what was formerly St Edmund’s Church was the arts centre.
Born out of the collaboration between American sisters, the work on show was nothing short of beautiful. The story behind the coral reef is an interesting one. Margaret Wertheim, a mathematician and her sister Christine who direct the Institute of Figuring in Los Angeles, California started a project in 2005 to re-create the creatures of the coral reefs using a crochet technique invented by a mathematician. It both celebrates the amazements of the reef, and explores the hyperbolic geometry underlying coral creation.
The British crochet coral reef is a satellite of the worldwide Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef project which resides at the Institute of Figuring. The British leg of the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef is presented in partnership with the Crafts Council. It is a large-scale art work that consists of thousands of brightly coloured crocheted coral and associated creatures created by craft makers all around the world. One of the main attractions for me (as well as the technique) is the narrative element of the work, that the reef grows as it tours.
Participants at each location learn to crochet and add their coral to the reef, and it is then restaged in a different configuration with the new additions at the next exhibition venue. The techniques used in the reef are a mixture of crocheting in the traditional sense along with freeform and experimental crochet using recycled materials such as plastic bags and wire. All of the sections are apparantly models of hyperbolic planes, meaning a geometric pattern resembling real coral that is made by increasing the stitches on each row of crochet in equal numbers.
There were instructions that you could take with information and patterns for making your own hyperbolic coral in crochet too. If you find that there’s a Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef being exhibited near you, I’d strongly recommend a visit. It is inspirational.
Here’s some more about how the reef came into being in a really interesting TED video of Margaret Wertheim talking about the reef, its history and its future.