Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project


Christine and Margaret Wertheim 

The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef is a woolly celebration created by Australian-born, California-based  Christine and Margaret Wertheim.  Designed, fabricated, and mostly crocheted by the Wertheims, these sculptures also incorporate pieces from a curated selection of over 4,000 globally dispersed individual knitters to create both the main ‘mother’ reef that has been featured in traveling exhibitions since 2007.  

The artists describe their creation as follows:

The Great Barrier Reef, the original inspiration for the project, is the world’s largest reef and stretches for over 133,000 square miles.  But the affects of global warming have already caused catastrophic die-off in one-third of the reef’s area, and biologists argue that even one additional degree of change in sea temperature would be enough to cause extensive coral death around the world.

The core project, a 371+ square meter (and growing) crocheted reef, is a crafted agglomeration of multiple smaller reef structures, such as the Bleached Reef which is made up of paler colors to represent dying and stressed coral provoked by rising water temperatures, and the Toxic Reef, which is knitted from all plastic materials. 

The project is an innovative fusion of higher geometry and (traditionally) feminine handicraft,  as well as testimony to the disappearing wonders of the marine world. The project also explores the mathematics behind both crochet and natural forms.  ‘Hyperbolic crochet’ was discovered in 1997 by Dr. Daina Taimina of Cornell as a way of physically exploring complex fractals in mathematics.  As with many other forms of science, these fractals are also mirrored in nature, such as in coral, sponges, and kelp.  

As of 2020, more than 40 Satellite Reefs have been constructed, in Chicago, New York, London, Melbourne, Ireland, Latvia, Germany, the UAE, and elsewhere. More than 15,000 people have participated in creating these citizen-generated art-installations. During COVID lockdown, new satellites are under construction – in Toronto, Helsinki, and Illinois.

  •  See Margaret Wertheim’s TED talk, discussing the Crochet Coral Reef in the context of  intersection of art and science 
  • Check out this interview with Margaret Wertheim published in Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture