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Hyperbolic Crochet and the Institute For Figuring

Rachel Louise Carson, American marine biologist, author, and conservationist said upon receiving the National Book Award in 1963, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” I believe that logic applies to women and other underrepresented and under-acknowledged groups: If we pay attention to the wisdom and contributions of women past, current, and future, we can be better equipped to form a more peaceful and just world.

Carson, of course, was thinking about the natural environment, and artists Christine and Margaret Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring take just that approach in their long-term community collaborative project, the Crochet Coral Reef project. Their exploration lands at the intersection of handicraft, mathematics, social activism, and environmentalism. It is also composed of contributions from thousands of participants around the world (99% of whom, they report, are female-identifying).

Mathematicians and physicists have spent decades examining patterns and equations utilizing drawing and other forms of representation to visualize their theories and concepts. In 1997, Dr. Diana Taminia at Cornell discovered that a complex geometry nobody had been able to fully understand how to visualize to date could be reproduced using the feminine handicraft technique of crochet. She created an object - a visualization - with which to proceed to justify many other mathematical equations and theorems. And this discovery, she made, was inspired by the shapes and formations of nature mainly those in sea mollusks and coral reefs that utilize hyperbolic formations.

In 2006, Christine and Margaret Wertheim took this seed of inspiration and created an artwork inviting artists, anywhere, to crochet using the mathematical equation, the collection of which would be reproduced to imitate coral reefs and underwater environments with which to discuss environmental sustainability. It’s a method we can now call hyperbolic crochet; of course, people have been simply crocheting since at least the 16th century.

Christine and Margaret Wertheim’s project has been exhibited around the world and in January 2022, it will be reiterated at the Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs, NY. If you’d like to participate, learn to crochet and join this mathematical community art project, you are welcome! More details on the Tang’s website, here with upcoming workshops on March 16, April 13, and May 11.

An Aside...I thought I’d start this post with an inspirational quote speculating on the relationship between art and nature. Disappointed but certainly unsurprised, I discovered that “art nature quote” in google yielded 1000s of male voices and only a few from women. I love to be reminded of the wisdom of Anne Frank, Jane Austin, Emily Dickinson, and Rachel Carson but I can’t help but wonder about all those women who were left out of history, what they might have discovered about this timeless collaboration between art and nature, and what we could have gleaned from their perspectives. Woman Interwoven is dedicated to telling women’s stories, making their work and wisdom more visible.

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