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Anita Bruce

Knitted Wire Sea Creatures

Sea creatures knitted from scientific wire by Anita Bruce. Photo from the IFF Archive by Francine McDougall 2009.

Sometimes we joke that we should call this project the "Almost Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef." There are things in the Reef that aren't crochet and things that aren't hyperbolic, but almost everything is either crocheted or hyperbolic (at least one out of two). In most cases when we get requests to include items that fall into neither category our answer is no, but in the remarkable case of Anita Bruce we knew that all rules are made to be broken. Anita knits sea creatures from scientific wire and when we first encountered her work we knew the Reef should be populated by some of these astonishing knitted specimens.

"Sphereconis" and "tubeconis" forms from Anita Bruce's "Mutation" Series. Photos © The IFF, by Margaret Wertheim.

We first encountered Anita when she contributed several medusa-like models to the UK Reef in 2008. These beautiful forms, so reminiscent of Ernst Haeckel's delicately lovely drawings of living medusas were in fact crocheted, out of fine wire and string. We were enchanted and asked to see more. The body of work she produced out of a tupperware box at the opening of the UK exhibition at The Hayward blew our minds. Here was an entire invented taxonomy of magical sea creatures, all knitted out of fine scientific wire. Over several years Anita had been pursuing her own evolutionary path, beginning with very simple forms then letting the process of stitching guide the development of the 'organisms' into increasingly complex structures. Like us, she too was proceeding along a private Darwinian path, allowing the inner nature of her work to develop and grow organically.

An especially delicate individual from Anita's "Mutation" series - this one seems especially reminiscent of an Ernst Haeckel drawing. Indeed Haeckel was one of her inspirations. Photo © The IFF, by Margaret Wertheim.

By profession Anita is a computer programer who designs high-end business software. She lives and works in the city of Peterborough in England. In her early forties, Anita decided to go to art-school to get a BA, something she pursued while continuing with her professional career. The body of work shown here is part of what she produced for her thesis exhibition. More of her exquisite knitted taxonomy and a history of this enigmatic project can be seen on her Plankton Blog.

See Anita Bruce's Plankton Blog here:

A flotilla of Anita Bruce's knitted sea creatures, hanging at Track 16 Gallery in Los Angeles (2009) along with beaded medusa by Vonda N McIntyre. At bottom, among the rocks, are beaded corals by Vonda and Sue Von Ohlsen, plus beaded kelps by Diana Simons and Sarah Simons.

Anita Bruce's Artist Statement regarding her work:

My work is principally about the need to conserve biodiversity and how this is reflected in structure and form in the Natural World. I look at evolution - the elegantly simple mechanism that creates biodiversity. My "specimen" life forms are hitherto unrecorded creatures that dwell in the depths of the ocean. I look at how life is catalogued, classified and displayed, as I explore the blurred boundaries between art and science.

These sculptural organic forms reference planktonic life - simple creatures that exhibit complex and beautiful forms with unfamiliar anatomies. Despite their microscopic scale and seeming insignificance, planktonic organisms occur in unimaginable volumes throughout the oceanic realm with the potential to have a massive impact on the world we live in as indicators of and potential agents for climate change. The working process employed in making these textiles is significant. Specimens are constructed in thread using simple elemental looping techniques, which are amongst the earliest used by man to construct fabric and practical objects such as nets and baskets. They reflect my interests not only in the evolution of life, but also in the archaeology and evolution of stitch. Simple stitches are the building blocks that create complex forms. The repetitions of stitch construct a fabric from thread that also references the generations it takes to create each new 'species'. This cell-like network represents the life cycle and complex connections that balance the natural world. The linear thread of the textile thereby draws on and mimics the continuity of life itself, as organised by the pattern of DNA.

Over the past few years I have conducted what I think of as a series of experiments using the principles of mutation to evolve new textile ‘life forms’. Over time, new 'species' of these organisms come into being as the patterns and underlying codes evolve. Generative techniques create a series of rules that work on modular forms, randomly generating values for size, shape, number, sequence and connections. In a further development I have experimented with altering the material itself through rusting bronze wire, a process that references both archaeological textiles and fossils.

In a second series of experiments I have taken a simple recognisable form as my starting point for an ever evolving sequence. The path is not prescribed, but follows an intuitive series of steps drawn from my zoological background. One sequence results in creatures that resemble hydra, sea anenomes, jellyfish and starfish, while another unexpectedly develops into molluscs. When I began this work I had no idea how the forms would evolve. Naming and cataloguing the specimens adds an important element to the project. Just as Darwin journalled the Voyages of the Beagle, I document my discoveries on my blog. The work has been inspired by many great collections in Natural History museums and my ultimate ambition is for this work to be exhibited alongside one of these collections.

Knitted sea creature made from rusted bronze wire from Anita Bruce's Mutation Series.

Medusa forms by Anita - crocheted wire (left) and crocheted string (right) - shown here as they were installed in the Crochet Reef exhibition at The Hayward (2008)

Knitted wire sea creature by Anita Bruce. Photo from the IFF Archive by Francine McDougall 2009.