There are probably not many projects that can claim to combine art and handicraft, mathematics, marine biology, environmental activism and drive home a feminist point or two at the same time. The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef art installation by sisters Christine and Margaret Wertheim – inspired by the work of mathematician Daina Taimina – does exactly that and more.
Dr Taimina (currently at CornellUniversity) learned how to knit and crochet as a young girl. In 1997 she succeed in modelling hyperbolic planes using her crochet hook and yarn, building on geometer William Thurston’s unsuccessful attempts with paper in the 1970’s. For hundreds of years previously, mathematicians had considered modelling hyperbolic space impossible – if indeed it even existed.
As it turns out, crochet is a perfect medium to translate the hard-to-visualise properties of hyperbolic space into a form that can be directly experienced through looking at and playing with the models.
Inspired by Dr Taimina’s work, the Wertheims created the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef – an awe-inspiring, ever-growing and beautiful collaborative project which highlights the plight of coral reefs across the planet. Margaret Wertheim gives a delightful talk about the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, (and gives an easy to understand explanation of hyperbolic space) in this TED talk:
If you want to learn more about the mathematics of crocheting hyperbolic space, Dr Taimina has written a book called Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes.
If you are interested in starting a satellite crochet coral reef, this is the official place to go: http://crochetcoralreef.org/makeyourown/index.php