A Hyperbolic Muse


[hahy-per-bol-ik] –adjective

  1. having the nature of hyperbole; exaggerated.
  2. using hyperbole; exaggerating.
  3. Mathematics. a) of or pertaining to a hyperbola. b) derived from a hyperbola, as a hyperbolic function.

I went in to the Science Gallery in Dublin City Centre yesterday to see the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef. I brought the three crazies with me, partially because DH wanted to rip up carpet and floorboards in the house in some crazed DIY frenzy but mainly because recently Thing 1 and Thing 2 have been glued to “Scooby Doo and the Great Barrier Reef” and have been quizzing each other on what they know about coral and the Barrier Reef. I thought the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef might serve as a “cross-over” medium for them; certainly it was a confluence of their interests and mine.

I’ve been hearing about the Crochet Coral reef from Crafters I follow on Twitter and elsewhere online, mainly people such as BionicLaura, Irene Lundgaard  and StitchLily (agus lucht eigin as gaeilge). Certainly, my curiosity was piqued. I was not disappointed by what I saw. Some astonishing displays of creativity and craftmanship, I must say.  

Model of Hyperbolic geometry in Crochet by Dr Daina Taimina

By all accounts, it all started in 1997 when Dr Daina Taimina “discovered it was possible to model hyperbolic space using crochet, an innovation that surprised the mathematical world.” The photo of the purple blobbiness on the right is one of her crochet models – also on dispaly – and the yellow tacking shows how parallel lines behave in hyperbolic space. Instead of staying an equal distant apart, as in Euclidian geomety; or converging at the poles as they do in spherical geometry; they diverge – getting further and further apart. It’s fascinating. It also made me wonder if Daina Taimina and Debbie New have ever met.

In coral reefs the endless whimsical diversity of forms – loopy kelps, fringed anemones, crenallated corals or curlicued sponges – are all variations within the mathematical structure of hyperbolic space. Due to global warming and pollutants these fragile marvels such as The Great Barrier Reef – an acknowledged wonder of the natural world – and other reefs face devastation. 

“In homage to these disappearing treasures, Austrailian sisters Christine and Margaret Wertheim, instigated a project to crochet a handmade reef.” The Wertheim twins have spent the past five years building on Dr Taimina’s techniques, through elaborations of her original crochet code; and “developed an ever-evolving taxonomy of reef life-forms”.

In cities where the “Core Reef” is shown, the Wertheim twins work with local communities to make their own “Satelite Reef” and the Irish Reef is the newest addition to this. The display for the Irish Contribution gets its own designated area – on the upper floor of the Science Gallery. I picked out the coral (shown in the photo on the right below) for special attention, deliberately with my knitting buddy Clarabel in mind. The fringe is done in the same green novelty yarn that she despaired of me owning, let alone using, last December!

Some “Irish Reefers” also contributed to the “Ladies Silurian Atoll” which the exhibition catalogue describes as being “made by a small and intimate group of the Reef’s most dedicated contributors.” Indeed the exhibition catalogue makes many references to some “favourite” contributors being particularly “expert” or masterly in their knowledge of the craft or of materials and I was a little uneasy with the hierarchical notions this smacks of. It doesn’t take from the overall effect of brilliant, collaborative creativity, however.

Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, Ground Floor installation

The scientist and mathematician in me was very much intrigued and delighted by what I saw. The Escher “Circle Limit” woodcuts were almost by-the-by, however – more could have been made, in their display, out how mind-blowing they are.

The environmentalist in me would have liked to have seen more graphics about the background to “The Toxic Reef” and “The Bleached Bone Reef” – it was a missed opportunity to lay it on with a trowel how terrible it is that man has made an island of plastic in the Pacific that is twice the size of Texas.

Excerpt from The Toxic Reef

The crafter in me was a little troubled, however. I went because I knew – albeit online-ly – some of the contributors. There are no tags to say who has contributed what. So while some contributors are feted in the catalogue others’ work is piled in together. I think I’m jealous/ resentful on behalf of those that I know that have contributed a lot of their time and effort. For example, while I was on the second floor, I recognised a kindred crafter and was able to deduce from her that yes, she had contributed but no, she couldn’t find her work on display. My worry was that, due to limitations of space in the Science Gallery, that her work was not put on display at all. Because of this, perhaps unfairly, the crafter in me – an exhibitionist at the best of times – would not be swayed towards contibuting towards the Coral Reef in the future despite how much I may be chided by the mathematical, scientific or environmentalist sides of my brain.

However, I have to add, this is the perspective of someone who wasn’t involved in the process and perhaps just being involved in creating this fantastic work of art is reward enough.



12 Responses to “A Hyperbolic Muse”

  1. Irene Says:

    Good blog post!!!

    By way of explanation for some of your points: The Wertheims are the ones who solely decide what goes where at this exhibition. They went through all the Irish contributions and I mean ALL of them and they picked a few items that they wanted to use for their own part of the exhibition – which is what curators do. They also picked the pieces for the curated Irish Reef. The wording is theirs (perhaps in conjunction with the Science Gallery? That I do not know.)

    Seeing that I might be classified as one of the contributors with the inside track all I can say is that The Reefers who actually assembled the Irish Reef worked with the best of intentions and in the spirit of inclusiveness very many hours and completely voluntarily and always trying to show off every contribution in the best light!

    Finally, we were given to believe that all contributor’s names were to be shown on a wall somewhere, alas, that wall I did not see anywhere and that is terribly disappointing!

    And yes, it is very rewarding to be involved in an international exhibition and the good news is, that the Irish Reef (displayed differently) may tour Ireland, if there are people interested in making it happen as well as galleries/museums etc willing to show it.

    • undermeoxter Says:

      Thanks for the insight. I hope I haven’t suggested that work and effort wasn’t being shown off in the best light. My issues are more to do with the curation and the catalogue than with the display.

      Truely astonshing effort.

  2. Bionic Laura Says:

    Great post, the photos are great. I’m hoping to go see later on today. Hope your children enjoyed the woolly reef! It’s great that all your interests can combine like that.

    As to the acknowledgment of crafters, they didn’t promise tags on pieces and I wouldn’t expect that, it wouldn’t look great. I was expecting all the pieces to be displayed all tangled together as well as that is how the other reefs are. I thought they would have a list displayed of the people who contributed as they did collect the names. So that’s a pity.

  3. undermeoxter Says:

    I look forward to hearing what you think.

    They have a container with pieces that you’re allowed to handle and one piece is tagged: “Elly King, NY”. The crafter in me appreciated the resonance this gave. Perhaps there should be more pieces that you could handle and each of these could have a tag.

  4. Irene Says:

    I have just been told that there is a list of recorded Irish contributors to the right of the plinth where the Irish Curated Pieces are.

    Also, I second bionicLaura’s take on the name tag thing. Furthermore, the tags look ghastly on the display and would take away from the overall look.

    In my humble opinion this project should reflect more about the message than the individual.

    • undermeoxter Says:

      I agree with you – that the project should reflect more about the message than the individulal – and the exhibition definately does that. The collaborative effort behind it shines through.

      I realise, reading back over my post, that the phrase “piled in together” is misleading. I’m not referring here to how the work is displayed – the picture of the Irish Reef above shows how that’s not the case.
      I was only referring to the catalogue; to how some contributors are given a whole page (e.g. Dr Axt) whereas I don’t see Irish Reefers being credited in the same way. The catalogue is for this specific exhibition in the Science Gallery, after all!

      • Bionic Laura Says:

        Well I saw the reef and it’s amazing. I’ve never seen that much crochet in one place! There are so many cool parts to it. I loved the colourful stuff on the way in. The plastic reef is so impressive as it takes rubbish and transforms it. The Irish reef looks great. It was nice to see the people who work there being so enthusiastic about it and most of them were crocheting too.

        I saw the sign with the Irish reef contributors so there is a list there which is good so that people know it was a big collaborative effort.

  5. Averil Says:

    Love the photos! Do you know how long the exhibit is on for? I’m trying to plan an escape home sometime in May and would love to see it.

  6. My Month of Sundays « Under Me Oxter – coz that’s how I knit Says:

    […] Sunday, 21st March, I took the kids into the Science Gallery in Trinity College Dublin to see the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef. Our lunch afterwards this time was in Café di Napoli for pizza portions for kids and a most […]

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