By Tom Wachunas
EXHIBIT: Crochetral: Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef – a collaborative project by faculty and students of Malone University Departments of Visual Arts and Mathematics and Computer Science, on view THROUGH SEPTEMBER 21, 2015, at Malone University’s McFadden Gallery (located in Johnson Center) and Art-in-a-Case, in the Cattell Library / 2600 Cleveland Avenue N.W., Canton, Ohio – open for viewing Monday-Friday during regular business hours
“Mathematics is not scary when you can touch it.” - mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina
“The Crochet Coral Reef is a woolly celebration of the intersection of higher geometry and feminine handicraft, and a testimony to the disappearing wonders of the marine world.” - from the website for Crochet Coral Reef, a project originally created and curated in 2005 by Christine Wertheim and Margaret Wertheim of the Institute For Figuring.
Also from the same website, the following:
The inspiration for making crochet reef forms begins with the technique of "hyperbolic crochet" discovered in 1997 by Cornell University mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina. The Wertheim sisters adopted Dr Taimina's techniques and elaborated upon them to develop a whole taxonomy of reef-life forms. Loopy "kelps", fringed "anemones", crenelated "sea slugs", and curlicued "corals" have all been modeled with these methods. The basic process for making these forms is a simple pattern or algorithm, which on its own produces a mathematically pure shape, but by varying or mutating this algorithm, endless variations and permutations of shape and form can be produced. The Crochet Reef project thus becomes an on-going evolutionary experiment in which the worldwide community of Reefers brings into being an ever-evolving crochet "tree of life."
Consider ALL of the above as a necessary introduction to fully appreciate the scope and intent of this exhibit. I strongly recommend clicking on the web link. And wait, there’s more. The statement posted with the show tells us that as part of the crocheting process, the contributors “…explored the math of hyperbolic space.” To that end, I give you this additional link to a 1997 video of Dr. Daina Taimina explaining her application of hyperbolic surface theory to the art of crochet. It’s highly entertaining, and despite the somewhat arcane content, you need not be a math savant to get the essentials.
Further, from Merriam-Webster.com, here’s a definition of Hyperbolic Geometry: “geometry that adopts all of Euclid's axioms except the parallel axiom, this being replaced by the axiom that through any point in a plane there pass more lines than one that do not intersect a given line in the plane.” Everyone got that? And just for good measure, let me add that (according to my less than exhaustive online research) hyperbolic surface theory addresses, among other things, the geometry of “saddle surfaces” (i.e., surfaces/planes curved or bent into saddle-like shapes) with a “constant negative Gaussian curvature.” Well now, that explains everything, right?
Perhaps knot. But the overarching point here is that this intriguing exhibit, while not an official "satellite reef" of the Crochet Reef Project, can nontheless be seen in solidarity with a growing world-wide movement that effectively merges science, mathematics and aesthetics to illuminate the ongoing threats to such precious and spectacular locales as the Great Barrier Reef. By extension, consider it in the context of a colorful global call to elevated planetary stewardship.
The installation at the McFadden Gallery is comprised of several discrete works mounted on pedestals (with one wall-mounted piece suggesting fish trapped in floating plastic detritus), representing clusters of “reef citizens” (corals, fish, plants, etc). While some of the individual components of these pieces are clearly more sophisticated in their construction than others (these aren’t, after all, your grandma’s scarves, hats, or afghans), each of the crocheted communities exudes a naturalistic cohesiveness.
For this project, Malone’s Li Hertzi required a short paper from her 3D Design students. One of the optional topics she proposed was to discuss how “…the social impact of yarn bombing and performance art…can change people’s thinking.” “Yarn bombing”? Sometimes called “guerilla knitting,” it’s a growing form of street art that began appearing in various urban settings roughly around 2003. Think of it as impermanent graffiti. And proposing a kinship with performance art isn’t such a conceptual stretch, either. Can we think of crocheting as a metaphor for exploring potentiality, or possibility? In this context, while the act of knotting and stitching entailed repeated, meticulous motions in real time, the resultant forms evoke something well beyond themselves as representational static objects, and something outside the present moment of seeing. I think that they speak eloquently of something yet to be thought about, something yet to be done, something yet to be performed.
So in as much as this project asks us to be proactive performers in protecting what we find so ineffably beautiful about our natural environs, it’s also a potent reminder that all of us are indeed… reef citizens.