Friday, October 09, 2015


From The Primordial Soup Pencil on paper 2015
This is another sketch from my desk. Yes, my desk at university, where I spend a lot of time these days. Regular readers will know I have returned to university to undertake an M. Phil [research higher degree]. So, while I am reading, writing, taking notes I try to capture some of  the images that float through my head. My sketchbook and pencils are sitting beside my notepads and library books, ready to picked up when inspiration arrives. Sometimes, it's a bit hard to capture inspiration, but the image above, I think, has been caught rather well. 
So, how did this image happen? What was I reading when it suddenly popped into my head? Well...I had been given a task to write 1000 words about an artwork and the chosen piece was 'The Crochet Coral Reef' curated by Margaret and Christine Wertheim. So, it's not actually a piece, but an ongoing project that includes collaborative community activities and exhibitions around the world, involving over eight thousand people [as of 2015]. Please read about it here on the Wertheim sister's website for their not-for profit Institute For Figuring [IFF] based in Los Angeles.
Yes, the 'Crochet Coral Reef' is created with the traditional women's handicraft of crochet. And, it's far more complex that you might think! The coral-like pieces created by crochet artists are also 3d representations of non-Euclidean hyperbolic geometry. 3d modelling of hyperbolic geometry had remained elusive, despite it appearing in nature ie: lettuce leaves, coral. It remained elusive until 1997 when Dr. Daina Taimina, a mathematician at Cornell University, showed how it could be modelled in 3d by creating coral-like forms using crochet, a handicraft she had learnt as a child.
In 2005 Margaret Wertheim, a physicist and science writer and her sister Dr. Christine Wertheim, an artist, writer and academic decided to crochet coral using Dr. Taimina's techniques. Both sisters had learnt crochet, along with other handicrafts, as children growing up in Brisbane, Australia. Christine suggested they create a coral reef. [IFF] As Australians [Queenslanders!] they had a connection to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the ten wonders of the world, and under increasing threat.
Please have a look at the many and various images of 'Crochet Coral Reef' marvellous exhibitions on the IFF website . There's an array of different types of exhibitions, from those where the crocheted coral is amassed to create colourful reefs, to those where amazing individual pieces are placed on plinths, taking on a prophetic gravitas.
As time has gone by, the choice of crochet material has extended beyond traditional woollen yarn to include plastic wrappers, wire, video tape and more.[IFF] This is a deliberate confrontation with the detritus of the Anthropocene, especially in the marine context. Yes, the 'Crochet Coral Reef' project is not only an expression of creative handicraft and a modelling of hyperbolic geometry, it is also deliberately placed within important environmental discourses.
The' Crochet Coral Reef' project seriously provokes commentary about environmental  degradation, ocean sustainability and global warning. But, hey...let's take it to the full whammy...I argue that the project warns of existential risks, those threats that may cause annihilation of humanity and the planet. However, the project's human elements ie: community collaboration and the hands-on crochet technique, unmediated by hi-tech equipment and intervention, remind us that touch and time can be reclaimed. As it confronts us, the 'Crochet Coral Reef' project also offers multiple pathways for re-thinking...the hyperbolic taking us on a roller-coaster that provides multiple perspectives.
So, how did my sketch From The Primordial Soup erupt from this story of crochet, hyperbolic  geometry and environmental discourses?
Here goes...
I had previously read about a new geological term...plastiglomerate! Yes, it is actually a geological term to describe a new rock, a mixture of natural materials combined with plastic, being delivered from the sea. You can read about plastiglomerate on the Geological Society of America GSA Today website.
With this new 'rock' in mind, it's easy to see confluence with the multi-material morphed coral forms in 'Crochet Coral Reef' exhibitions eg: check out the 2014 exhibition at NYU in Abu Dhabi and the 2015 one in San Antonio, Texas.
As I thought more about plastiglomerate and pondered the far reaching critical possibilities of 'The Crochet Coral Reef' project I asked questions. Is plastiglomerate a metaphor for a new kind of birth, a mutation where detritus and DNA are mixed? Are we witnessing a prophetic delivery where mutations are, in fact, inevitable? Have they already occurred in other areas so far undetected? As landscape coughs up these new entities, what is humanity's fate?
Given that life may have begun in the primordial ocean I think it is interesting that plastiglomerate has been created in, and delivered by, our 21st century oceans. This is what inspired From The Primordial Soup.

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