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Christine Wertheim

Crochet Reef Co-Creator

The Branched Anemone Garden with Moons - Christine invented the branched tree form. Photographed at the Chicago Cultural Center by Aaron and Cassandra Ott.

"We could crochet a coral reef," Christine declared, pointedly using the conditional tense. That was in December of 2005. The statement was rhetorical, not intended to be taken as a serious enterprise - but her sister Margaret, being a more literal character, put up a page on the IFF website calling for others to join us in this enterprise. One of the first people who called was the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh who announced they were having an exhibition on artists' responses to global warming in early 2007. They would like our Crochet Reef in the exhibition, the curator said. Would it be available?

The bigger question was would it be done? At this stage the Reef was just a collection of ad hoc pieces sitting on our coffee table. Why not, Margaret said, precipitating something far huger than either sister could have imagined.

Giant Orange crochet coral by Christine at the Chicago Cultural Center exhibition.

From the start Christine wanted to branch out from the mathematically perfect forms that Dr. Daina Taimina had pioneered when she invented hyperbolic crochet. Christine's impulses, as always, were wild and non-linear. "Screw geometric fidelity," she declared, deviating into irregular rates of increasing stitches and un-planar forms. To this algorithmic aberancy she soon added fluffy and hairy yarns; she also started mixing yarns together - a bright orange synthetic with a hot pink mohair, for instance, or a deep green carpet yarn with a hairy cream boucle. The effect was electrifying. Suddenly the models came to life - they began to look like natural organisms instead of Platonic ideals. This was the seed of the entire project and it is with Christine that the curatorial genius of the Crochet Reef lies.

Detail of Christine's curatorial masterpiece, the Toxic Reef in New York at the World Financial Center. With pink spiral shell-form by Ildiko Szabo and frilled pillar anemone by Evelyn Hardin. Photo by Helen Wall.

Almost from day one Christine's favorite yarn was a bright orange synthetic purchased from Michael's at $1.89 for a large double-size ball. Its stiffness gives the finished models a structural integrity that it is hard to match in natural fibers. Chrissy has made dozens of corals from this yarn, the largest being a huge symmetric hyperbolic plane that she has been working on on and off for three years. It is now so huge it takes an entire double ball to do a single row. This orange has become one of the aesthetic mainstays and guiding influences of the Reef - the Toxic Reef especially has been formed around a pallet of orange, white, blue and hot pink.

Giant Orange crochet coral by Christine in the Toxic Reef, New York. At far left is a beautiful plastic crochet brain coral by Sien Chu Kerk. At back is a plastic and yarn pillar coral by Kristine Brandel; at far right we see Ildiko's electric forms. Photo by Helen Wall.

Christine has also been the lead inspirator of the plastic aspect of the Crochet Reef project. Again she has led the way mixing yarns and plastic trash together in all sorts of unexpected combinations. The Toxic Reef is her curatorial masterwork, evolving and growing over time in an ever-expanding synthesis of handicraft and rubbish.

Ping-pong tree sponge form (with cable ties) invented by Christine.

When she is not crocheting reef items, Christine has a full-time job in the Department of Critical Studies at the California Institute of the Arts, where she teaches experimental writing and feminism. She is also an experimental poet and writer whose work deals with the intersection of language and logic. Christine's first book of poetry, +'Ime-S-pace, was published in 2007 by Les Figues Press, LA. Christine is the editor (with Matias Wigner) of the N'Oulipo anthology of Oulipo-inspired experimental writing, which emerged out of a series of conferences that she and Wigner organize at CalArts. In 2008 Christine made her theatrical debut as the writer, director, performer of a sock puppet play called "Quoi", whose sets featured several crochet reef objects. Christine has a PhD from Middlesex University, where her thesis focused on Samuel Beckett's novel Watt and its relationship to the semiotic graphs of the American logician and mathematician Charles Sander Pearce.

Detail of Christine's curatorial masterpiece, the Toxic Reef in New York at the World Financial Center. Ping-pong tree sponge form by Christine with video-tape sea-slug by Evelyn Hardin. Photo by Helen Wall.