Deep sea crochet (by Olga Norris)

In the current issue of Sculpture magazine I encountered an extraordinary story of mass participation crochet coral.  The images would normally have put me off, because I am not a fan of the crowded and what I would call visually messy; but Sculpture is a serious publication, and I have rarely been disappointed with its articles.  You can perhaps read the article through this link.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAImage from Institute for Figuring

There have been several collaborations between science and the arts now, which can be read about here, and here, and here, and seen/listened to here.  It is an area which seems to be growing, to my delight, because I do very much believe in the benefits of cross pollination.  I thought that the Coral Crochet Reef would perhaps make an interesting post for Ragged Cloth Café.

Twins from Australia, Margaret and Christine Wertheim, the former the scientist (physics and maths) and the latter the artist (painting, literature, and logic), but both interested in mathematics were intrigued by a Latvian mathematician who worked out how to model hyperbolic geometry with crochet.  They worked on examples of hyperbolic geometry for a couple of years until bored with perfect shapes – and found that imperfections in the pattern looked organic, and that the results looked like corals.  They decided that they could crochet a whole reef – and from there the larger project grew.  There is an excellent You-tube film here which explains the project much better than I ever could.

crochetcoralreef_1Image from here

Should you wish to create your own versions of crocheted or knitted corals there are patterns here and here.  This whole project, or the wide totality of projects goes to show just how much folks enjoy being part of creative communities, indeed, of a greater creative community.  I’m not sure how many would think more about mathematics beyond hyperbolic geometry – but perhaps even if just one or two do that is success.  I do hope that an increasing number of projects like this, and others combining ideas of science and the arts will permeate everyday culture so that we will grow up thinking more widely and in less pigeon-holed a manner.

To my personal visual taste the crochet reefs might be unattractive compared with the real growing marvels, but if our humanity can be enhanced as well as the existence of those who share our planet, then crochet on!

coral for real  The real thing – image from here

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5 Responses to “Deep sea crochet (by Olga Norris)”


  1. 1 olganorris February 26, 2014 at 3:25 am

    How fortunate you were Clairan to experience the installation for real. I’m sure that when seen partially in small photographs it cannot convey how overwhelming it must be. I would love to know what it was that blew you and the other members of your family away: was it the effort, the achievement, the community effort, the size, the aesthetic appeal, the otherwise unimaginable manifestation of mathematics in the humble craft of crochet, …?

    • 2 clairan February 26, 2014 at 5:50 am

      Yes! My husband is a physicist and he could understand the math and could explain it enough to us to give us a sense of its wonder. But the piece is magnificent! Large and beautiful and very detailed and colorful. Really made you proud of human beings!

  2. 3 clairan February 25, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Olga, I saw this “piece” when it was exhibited in Chicago and was blown away. So much so that when I had the opportunity to see it again I not only went enthusiastically but dragged my husband and daughter along. They were most reluctant and then equally overwhelmed and delighted!

  3. 4 olganorris February 24, 2014 at 6:45 am

    June, I agree that jumping subject boundaries can lead to misuse of ideas and information; but that that is better than a lack of transfer of any kind. I have often thought that ideas leaking out of the edges of others’ fields of endeavour can be fruitful grazing for thinkers on the margins.

    I thought that the crochet coral reefs provided a way for both sides to look again at the other. Crochet is dismissed by so many, consigned to the ‘ornamentation of the kitsch’ bucket – and also mathematics is also dismissed as being beyond the reach of normal folks, and certainly of everyday life. Neither is true, but we get into such a groove of thinking, that it is good to be jolted out from time to time.

  4. 5 june February 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Brava for your acceptance, Olga, of everyone’s creativity and everyone’s capacity for expansion through learning in other fields. I believe deeply in both these.

    I suspect it’s the ideas you derive from these sculptures that attract me more than the art, but that’s often the case with art for me. And attraction is like food or color — what’s true today may not be true tomorrow. I can’t imagine becoming too worried about the “democratization” of art — the delight in visual and tactile creativity becoming more widespread (I think music, creating and enjoying, has always been available to most people). Nor do I worry about jumping disciplines and taking ideas from one to another, although sometimes the people who really know the disciplines are dismayed — I think of the way the theory of relativity in science has been misused by writers, pop thinkers, politicians, and ordinary ranters, somewhat like myself:-)

    Sometimes art work seen in person is more fetching than art on the web — the web enhances certain kinds of things but flattens and lessens others. I’m acutely aware of the ways photography and particularly web-shown images can be misleading. So I mistrust my own evaluations of this work, particularly when I’m looking at web images.

    So, “if our humanity can be enhanced as well as the existence of those who share our planet, then crochet on!” Quite right. And maybe I’ll have to take up crocheting in another life.


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