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The Bleached Reef

Photos by Aaron and Cassandra Ott

As part of the Crochet Coral Reef project the IFF has constructed a Bleached Reef, a handicrafted invocation of what happens to coral reefs under environmental stress. Most of the forms in this reef are crocheted from varying shades of white and cream, mimicking the effect of actual coral bleaching. Corals acquire their colors from microscopic zooaxanthellae that live within the polyps - these symbiotic organisms help the polyps feed. When corals get stressed by environmental toxins, or by rising water temperatures, the polyps expel the micro-organisms, leading to the washed out look known as "bleaching." Polyps can survive for a short time in the absence of zooaxanthellae, but not over the long term. A healthy reef ecology is a co-operative one and in the long term the corals need the microorganisms to survive. Over the past decade reefs around the world have been subject to an increasing number of major bleaching events, suggesting that rising water temperatures are taking a heavy toll.

The Bleached Reef is itself a highly collective work - many of the finest IFF contributors have made pieces for this installation, which remains our most delicate and fragile reef. Contributions to this reef include a selection of tiny felted conjevoi and coral pieces by Helle Jorgensen; spiral welk-egg-cases by Sarah Simons; a set of miniature graduated pseudospheres by Heather McCarren; piles of rubble coral by Margaret and Christine Wertheim; and a wondrous coral covered rock mound by Nancy Lewis. The installation also includes a number of amazingly delicate vintage lace doilies acquired at swap meets, makers unknown.

The Bleached Reef was first shown at the Chicago Cultural Center in Fall 2007 and has proved to be one of the most popular sub-reefs. Photos by Aaron and Cassandra Ott - taken at the Chicago Cultural Center, October 2007.