Thursday, October 31, 2013

Welcome to the Crochet Coral Reef Blog

Welcome to the Crochet Coral Reef Blog, created to keep you up-to-date with this internationally celebrated project that is a merging of art, craft, science, mathematics, and the participation of thousands of enthusiastic and talented crafters worldwide. The Reef is ever-growing - there are now satellite projects on every continent! The newest locales are Cape Town, South Africa; Bogota, Colombia; plus Melbourne and Perth, Australia. We are thrilled to get to know new Reefs, and reefers, in so many different cities. We begin our blog with a special mention about Latvia, where women and girls across the country have been crocheting reefs throughout 2009, under the extraordinary guidance of Tija Viksna. The Latvian Reef is currently on show at Gallery Consentio in Riga. We'll be doing a post on this amazing show soon.

Check back with us weekly to hear the latest updates on and additions to Reef efforts worldwide, as well as meet some of the brilliant individual crafters who contribute around the world. We hope the blog can serve as an informal gathering place for the many faces and personalities of this expansive project.

Top photo: The Toxic Reef as installed in The Gallery @ The Library, Scottsdale Civic Center, 2009. Photo by Alyssa Gorelick.
Bottom photo: Hyperbolic crochet workshop at the Musturs knitting club in Riga, Latvia, led by Tija Viksna. January 2009. Photo courtesy of Ingrida Birkante.

A Colorful, Chaotic, Creative, Crocheted World Visible Once More

As many of you might imagine, the setting-up of the Reef each time it’s exhibited is no small task. Our site-specific installations require several pairs of hands and eagle eyes to organize, place, and tweak each of the thousands of individual elements, usually working for several long days in a row. When the IFF installed our Reef exhibition in Scottsdale, AZ, we had the pleasure of getting to know and work with a number of devoted crafters of the Scottsdale Public Art Program (SPAP) and its surrounding community. It is to our delight and keen interest that the Scottsdale “crew” is currently showing their Reef again, this time at Waterfront Gallery, ARTscene, on the Scottsdale waterfront. We’re thrilled to see the Scottsdale Reef transplanted into a whole new “ocean,” this one with beautiful Moorish architectural details.

Wendy Raisanen, of the SPAP, reported that they “loved seeing the same elements from the previous exhibit coming to life in new formations in a different space. The work is totally fluid, and could probably be installed anywhere.” By all accounts the process of reconfiguring the colorful and sprawling Scottsdale Reef for a new space was “an inspiring labor of love.” Wendy and company experienced a “complete and total submersion in the crochet world while we were installing and creating the exhibition. It was like we were inside a very colorful, chaotic, creative, crocheted world, and when it was time to go home, I didn’t really want to leave, even though I was totally exhausted.”

Congratulations to all the Scottsdale reefers on your second exhibition of 2009! We’re glad your Reef is out and about for all of us to enjoy once more.

Woolly Wonder in Baile Átha Cliath

The IFF is recently back from Ireland, where we installed the Reef exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin. It was a pleasure to watch the various elements of the Core Collection take root in the galleries, and we especially like how the wall of windows on busy Pearse St. create an "aquarium" effect for framing the Toxic Reef in its ground-level spot.

One of the best aspects of our time in Dublin was meeting all the Irish Reef crafters and seeing their splendid creations. Coordinated by Irene Lundgaard and Orla Breslin, the Irish Reef is an inspired instance of how every Satellite Reef has its own personality and regional flair. From delicately-calibrated lacey coral to graphically-colored brain corals, each of the hundreds of individual elements of the Irish Reef came together to form a refined yet lively terrain!

In addition, Irish Reefers added their own "isola" to the Toxic Reef, creating dozens of innovative pieces using plastic bags, video tape, bottle tops, and various found/recycled items. We welcome their attention to the special importance of this part of the Reef project.

World Ocean Day 2010

June 8th 2010 is World Ocean Day and this year our oceans are facing more than the usual challenges. In March, a Japanese oil tanker sank off the coast of Queensland, Australia, near the Great Barrier Reef, while in the Gulf of Mexico oil continues to spill from the Deepwater Horizon rig. In a sad twist of fate, June 8th marks the 50th consecutive day since the spill began and by most assessments this will be the worst oil accident in history. It might already be five times larger than the Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska.

Since Deepwater Horizon blew its top on April 20, scientists estimate that between one million and four million gallons of oil has been gushing into the sea every day. As of June 4th, the New York Times estimates that the total amount of oil spilled so far is between 50 million and 100 million gallons.
Oil gushing out of Deepwater Horizon has already reached the Louisiana shore where it will soon meet the state’s wetlands, and now seems certain to reach the beaches of Florida. In the past week scientists have further predicted, based on models of ocean currents, that the oil may also move up the eastern seaboard and may even cross the Atlantic to Europe.

As a response to this environmental tragedy, our singular Reef Contributor, Dr Axt, has begun to make a black version of her Reefer Madness series of giant coral mounds. She calls this haunting black elagiac installation her crochet “island of shame”.

Clean Hands Crafting: SPOTLIGHT on Nadia Severns

Despite our furious preparations for the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef’s exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, the IFF continues its blog tributes to our most prolific core contributors. This month we spoke with Nadia Severns, a New Jersey-based crafter who is definitively our most skilled contributor. She is innovative, as well—known ‘Reef-wide’ for her delicate crocheting around discarded plastic bottles, Nadia was kind enough to speak with us from her home on the east coast. We discussed her extensive professional experience, her radicalization as a crafter and citizen, and other various topics including her family, Quakerism, and disparate communities brought together through embodied experience.

Until fairly recently, Nadia had an extensive and varied career writing knitting and crochet patterns for large commercial companies. She did this for many years, in addition to her business making custom knit garments (seen by many on The Cosby Show!) and jewelry. Of late Nadia has worked for much smaller organizations, including one group of Uruguayan women who spin and dye their own wool. Nadia creates patterns from which crafters who buy the wool from Uruguay can work. Engaging with a company that helps women achieve financial independence is very meaningful to Nadia. Indeed, when you talk with her for any length of time, you come to understand that crafting is not only a professional and artistic activity for this thoughtful artisan, but also a feminist undertaking that allows her to keep the company of other strong women!

Nadia very much appreciates the ‘eco-consciousness’ of the Reef project, and long before she became involved with the HCCR, she was tuned into environmental issues and how her craft relates to the planet and how we occupy it. Nadia’s community in New Jersey is particularly sensitive to these topics, as a nearby missile base contaminated local ground water. This, combined with present-day consumption of bottled water, puts water issues at the fore for Nadia and her neighbors. Thus Nadia’s inventive re-use of plastic water bottles, as well as her predilection for incorporating bubble wrap and dry cleaning bags into her pieces. A new item for possible incorporation into her crochet are pipettes used for in-vitro fertilization! Form and function are always given equal weight by Nadia; she is constantly balancing her interests in maths and science with her materials-based inspiration and eco-mindedness.

A practicing Quaker, Nadia always considers the utilitarianism of the Quakers when working in her various crafting realms. To this end she expresses pleasure that she found the Reef (and it found her!), as the HCCR is an enterprise in which beautiful forms carry in them messages about important and timely politics. When she creates new coral, Nadia can work intuitively and in response to materials, all the while giving voice to her ideas and beliefs about conservation. Nadia’s varied experiences, considerable skills, and thoughtful studio practice synergize to make her an extremely beloved friend of the IFF. She’s a wonderful person to get to know.

Photos of both finished and in-process works from Nadia's studio kindly provided by the artist.

IFF Directors Honored

The Institute For Figuring is proud to announce that the Autry National Center has awarded Margaret and Christine Wertheim, co-creators of the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef project, the first Theo Westenberger Grant for Women of Excellence, an honor that recognizes “innovation in any field of art” by a living female artist.

In conjunction with the Grant, the Wertheims will present the first Theo Westernberger Lecture in the Arts about the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef project and its unique intersection of art, science, environmentalism and community art practice. The lecture will be held at the Autry on Saturday, April 30, 2011 @ 2pm.

The Grant and the Lectureship are new programs the Autry has created in conjunction with the Center’s recently established Theo Westenberger Archive. Theo Westenberger (1950-2008) was a “trailblazing feminist photographer whose versatility in portraiture and travel images made her both one of the leading magazine photographers and a respected artist.” In keeping with the Center’s mission “to explore the experiences and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West, the Autry created the Theo Westenberger Archive to honor and build on the legacy of this important female artist.”