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Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA


Exhibition Curators: Margaret and Christine Wertheim
Assistant Curators: Anna Mayer and Jemima Wyman

Exhibition dates: June 7, 2011 – August 21, 2011
Exhibition location: Williamson Gallery, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA

The Institute For Figuring is delighted to announce our return to Los Angeles with the exhibition Hyperbolic: Reefs, Rubbish and Reason at Art Center College of Design's Williamson Gallery. This meticulously detailed and labor-intensive installation has been hand-built on-site and marks the culmination of the Institute's six-year long investigation into the nexus of hyperbolic space, oceanic ecology, and community art practice. Featuring a core collection of the IFF's most exquisite Crochet Reefs, with works by our inventive Contributors, the exhibition also includes a site-specific Coral Forest, a giant trash Midden, and a mathematical Play Tank. At once hyper-real, super-real, and unreal, Hyperbolic: Reefs, Rubbish and Reason is a domestically inflected meditation on the mystery of mathematics, the evolution of life, the well-spring of human creativity, and the environmental crisis confronting marine ecosystems everywhere.

Bringing together themes that the IFF has been exploring since its inception - public engagement with mathematics allied with participatory creative practice - this exhibition showcases the power of material play. Everything in this show is literally hand-made, yet at the same time it embodies theoretical ideas. From the seeds of a mathematical concept, a fantastical universe has been spun into being. What began humbly in Highland Park in 2005 culminates now in this wide-ranging exhibition in Pasadena after a journey of discovery that has taken us around the world from Chicago, New York and London, to Scottsdale, Dublin and the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

This journey would not have been possible without the amazing group of people who have contributed works to the project in its various manifestations and we are delighted to showcase here pieces by our most skilled and talented Contributors.

The IFF also thanks the Pasadena Crochet Meetup group for contributions from the local Pasadena community, plus Williamson Gallery director Stephen Nowlin and his superb install crew.

Photographs © Institute For Figuring, by Cameron Allan.


IFF Core Reef Contributors represented in this exhibition

Christine Wertheim (Australia/CA), Margaret Wertheim (Australia/CA), Anna Mayer (CA), Daina Taimina (NY), Sarah Simons (CA), Evelyn Hardin (TX), Helen Bernasconi (Australia), Marianne Midelburg (Australia), Barbara Wertheim (Australia), Helle Jorgensen (Australia), Ildiko Szabo (England), Heather McCarren (CA), Dr Axt (OR), Nancy Lewis (VT), Anitra Menning (CA), Shari Porter (CA), Vonda N. McIntyre (WA), Sue Von Ohlsen (PA), Rebecca Peapples (MI), Clare O’Callaghan (CA), David Orozco (CA), Eleanor Kent (CA), Kathleen Greco (PA), Aviva Alter (IL), Nadia Severns (NY), Arlene Mintzer (NY), Jill Schrier (NY), Pamela Stiles (NY), Siew Chu Kerk (NY), Anita Bruce (UK), Mieko Fukuhara (Japan), Tija Viksna (Latvia), Irene Lundgaard and Orla Breslin (Ireland); with Ann Wertheim, Elizabeth Wertheim, Katherine Wertheim, Allie Gerlach, Quoin, Catherine Chandler, Sally Giles, Pate Conaway, Kristine Brandel, Cindy Bennish, Spring Pace, Karen Frazer, Karen Page, Lynn Latta, Diana Simons, Dagmar Frinta, Barbara Van Elsen, Njoya Angrum, Lily M. Chin, Ranu Mukherjee’s class at CCA, Katy Bevan, Rosy Sykes, Beverly Griffiths, Jane Canby, Jennifer White, Sharon Menges, Linda Shirey, Ellen Davis, Tane Clark, Nancy Youros, Gunta Jekabsone, Aoife Canavan, Audrey Cremin, Elzbieta Rzechula, Emer Brady, Jacinta Douglass, Jennifer Byrne, Madge Kenny, Moira Jones, Serene Baird, Una Morrison, Geraldine Coogan, Ashling Miller, Gina Caciolo, Chantal Hoareau, Ying Wong, Janice Ogata, Julie Tomiko Smith, Myrna Gutierrez, Vanessa L. Garcia, and contributors for the Pasadena Crochet Meet-Up group. Plus vintage doilie makers and unknown Chinese factory workers.



Rubbish Commands Center-Stage

Framed by Reefs and Reason, Rubbish commands the center-stage of the exhibition. Anchoring the space of the Williamson Gallery's main room is the Greater Rubbish Vortex, an elegaic installation compiled from all the domestic plastic trash used by IFF directors Margaret and Christine Wertheim during a four year period from February 2007 to February 2011.

In the upper part of the installation, two fishing nets scattered with plastic cast-offs evoke a jellyfish ingesting plastic "sand". To the right is the latest incarnation of the Toxic Reef, our all-plastic crochet reef, displayed here in an atoll-like configuration and featuring video-tape kelps by Christine Wertheim, Evelyn Hardin and Julie Tomiko Smith. Highlights of the installation include a cluster of plastic-bag tube-worms by Gina Caciolo, and the perennially superb grove of blue, New York Times plastic-bag anemones by our marvelous LA contributor Clare O'Callaghan. Above the reef floats a flock of jellyfish crafted from discarded plastic water bottles by Pasadena Crochet Meetup contributor Vanessa L. Garcia.

Coral Forest

In the second room of the exhibition is a site-specifically designed and installed giant Coral Forest. We have always wanted to go UP and here at last we have. The Coral Forest comprises a collection of towering sculptures ranging up to 10 feet high. Huge, voodoo-like objects, each composed from hundreds of crochet coral pieces, these organic sculptures were grown in situ. Just as the evolution of life on earth has had a vertical trajectory from ocean the floor towards the sky, so we at the IFF aim towards the heavens.

Left: Coral Forest - Orange, featuring orange plastic skirts by Chantal Hoareau, orange "blossoms" by Christine Wertheim, and pink anemone by Orla Breslin

Right: Coral Forest - Blue and Orange, featuring sea-slug by Marianne Middelberg, pink tube worms by Heather McCarren, rubble corals by Shari Porter, spiral horns by Una Morrison, rainbow corals by Irene Lundgaard, blue and orange kelps by Christine Wertheim and Sarah Simons.

Center: Plastic coral piece by Siew Chu Kerk.

Coral Forest. In center of the forest is Dr Axt's remarkable new work Requium Reeficus, made in response to the BP oil spill. (See below for close-up.) This is the forth work in Dr Axt's "Reefer Madness" series. The IFF is awed by the power of the good doctor's ouvre and by her continuing inventiveness with color and form.

Mathematics Play Tank

The exhibition includes a mathematics "Play Tank" where we explore the geometry of hyperbolic space. On the blackboard are diagrammatic explanations of Euclidean, Spherical and Hyperbolic geometries, showing the ways in which the three different types of surface can be "tessellated" or tiled. As one enters the room, the first thing a visitor encounters is a large paper model of hyperbolic space (pink model at left) constructed using the "hyperbolic soccer-ball" technique invented by mathematician Keith Henderson. Visitors can engage interactively by making a hyperbolic model of their own. Paper instructions, scissors and tape are provided at two sit-down play-stations.

Framing the play-stations are a series of crocheted hyperbolic manifolds by Dr Daina Taimina, the Cornell University inventor of hyperbolic crochet. Dr Taimina's beautiful models - hanging in center frame - cast projective shadows onto the euclidean floor. Displayed in a vitrine at the far end of the room, are a further series of Taimina's models demonstrating mathematical principles inhering within this unique geometry. The Play Tank also includes a large red hyperbolic model by local Pasadena contributor Myrna Gutierrez.

Classic Reef Room

In the "Beautiful Holy Jewel" room at the opposite end of the gallery, a selection of the IFF's classic crochet reefs are displayed, showcasing fine and delicate works by our beloved Contributors. On display are the Cold Water Reef (front), the Bleached Bone Reef (at left), and the Branched Anemone Garden (far end). In a series of small vitrines around the walls are miniature "Pod Worlds" featuring extremely skilled pieces by Nadia Severns, Arlene Mintzer, Sue Von Ohlsen, and Rebecca Peapples. In this room also hangs Helen Bernasconi's Hyperbolic Sea Serpent and a large coral pod by the Latvian Reef crafters, curated by Tija Viksna in Riga.

"Pod World Australiana." This small vitrine in the Holy Jewell room simultaneously evokes a coral reef and the landscape of central Australia. Featuring miniature coral "trees" by Gunta Jekabsone and Christine Wertheim, "rock pile" by Jane Canby, and staghorn corals by Helle Jorgensen. Hanging in back is Helen Bernasconi's extraordinary Hyperbolic Sea Serpent.

The Aisle of Feminine Creativity

In the Aisle of Feminine Creativity, a series of small wall-mounted cases showcases individual works by some of our exceptional Contributors (left side). Opposite these pieces (on the right side) are framed letters and diagrams sent to the IFF by Contributors, along with crochet pieces. The totality of these letters constitute our Holy Document Collection. Here, they are displayed in an aisle-like configuration that culminates in an "alter," on which stands the large pink paper-model of hyperbolic space.

Works displayed in the wall-mounted cases:

Case 1: Fluorescent corals by Ildiko Szabo.

Case 2: Orange plastic-bag coral piece by Christine Wertheim.

Case 3. JellyYarn coral sculpture by Kathleen Greco, with orange crocheted mathematical sequence by Heather McCarren.

Case 4. Beaded jellyfish by Vonda N. McIntyre.

Case 5. Staghorn corals by Mieko Fukuhara.

Case 6. Painted seascape on used, plastic takeout container by Alecia Escott and plastic bin-liner jellyfish by Margaret Wertheim.

Case 7. Knitted wire sea creatures by Anita Bruce, and Diatom book by Sarah Simons.

Exhibition Highlight Details and Works by Individual Contributors

Hyperbolic Soccer Ball Model. Made using technique invented by Keith Henderson. Model constructed by Christina Simons, Autumn Le Brannon, Cindi Kusuda, Daniel Hockensen.

Stick model of hyperbolic space by Alshling Miller.

Crocheted "Hyperbolic Manifold" by Dr Daina Taimina casting euclidean shadows onto the floor. A series of 3 models shows various embeddings of a hyperbolic surface within three-dimensional euclidean space.

Coral Forest - White. This 8 foot tall installation is made entirely from crocheted plastic. Featuring anemones by Margaret and Christine Wertheim with cable-tie heads by Evelyn Hardin, plus finger crochet saran-wrap corals by Pate Conaway, Katherine Wertheim and Barbara Wertheim.

Requium Reeficus by Dr Axt. This mind-blowing piece was made during 2010-2011 as Dr Axt's personal response to the BP oil spill. Woven into the tableau of black crochet corals are pieces of plastic tubing, cable ties and other plastic debris - all oil-byproducts. Requium Reeficus travels in a specially tailored sack made from black-plastic sheeting, which is displayed here draped over the pedestal.

The Toxic Reef, detail. Black video-tape kelps frame groves of plastic-bag anemones. Featured at front is a large orange coral by NY contributor Siew Chew Kerk. Clare O'Callaghan's blue grove nestles on the left.

The Greater Rubbish Vortex, detail. At the base of the installation sits four years worth of Margaret and Christine's domestic plastic trash - a collection we call "The Midden". Throughout the period of collecting we strived very hard to reduce our plastic intake and this huge pile represents just a fraction of what the average western person consumes.

Click here for more information about The Midden and plastic trash consumption.

Large orange plastic-bag coral by NY contributor Siew Chew Kerk.

Jellyfish crocheted from fine fishing line by Highland Park contributor David Orozco. David's beautiful piece is one of the very few works in the exhibition made by a man. David, who used to run a yarn store in Echo Park, has raised six children as a stay-at-home dad. He learned to crochet from his grandmother and has been handicrafting all his life. This piece was made specifically for the Hyperbolic exhibition.

JellyYarn coral sculpture by Kathleen Greco. This very fine piece was made by Kathleen, a reef contributor in Pennsylvania, for the Hyperbolic show. Kathleen is a former industrial designer and the inventor of JellyYarn, a special vinyl thread made for knitting and crochet. Kathleen's hyperbolic design sense is infected by her innate feeling for plastic.

More information about JellyYarn thread (and how to purchase it) may be found at

Flanking Kathleen's sculpture is a mathematical series of tiny graduated hyperbolic pseudospheres by CA contributor Heather McCarren.

Flourescent corals by UK contributor Ildiko Szabo. Ildiko's unique, pop-inflected pieces remain audience favorites. Ildiko is a theater costume designer in England and her playfully inventive work always elicits smiles of delight from visitors.

Miniature coral towers from the "Garden of Aqua Flora Collection" by NY contributor and fiber artist Arlene Mintzer. Seen here in a "Pod World" vitrine in the "Beautiful Holy Jewel" room. In the background (at right) is the Voodoo Coral Pile by Scottsdale Reef contributors Tane Clark and Nancy Youros and hanging center frame is Helen Bernasconi's Hyperbolic Sea Serpent.

"Plastic Pod World" in the "Beautiful Holy Jewel" room. This miniature universe contains three exquisite pieces crocheted by NY contributor Nadia Severns around discarded plastic water bottles. Nadia is a fiber artist and knitting professional in NY state who knitted many of the brightly colored sweaters worn by Bill Cosby and his wife on "The Cosby Show". Nadia's work for the reef project has always been deeply ecologically inflected - she takes small pieces of plastic trash and turns them into faberge-like treasures. Alongside Nadia's work is a plastic bottle anemone by Pasadena contributor Vanessa L. Garcia.

These works are sitting on on a bed of plastic "sand" washed up on Kamilo Beach in the North Hawaiian chain. This plastic sand - the ultimate broken-down residue of the Great pacific Garbage Patch - was collected in 2008 by Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Foundation.

Closeup of plastic "sand" washed up on Kamilo Beach in the North Hawaiian chain by Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Foundation. Captain Moore has been studying the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for more than a decade and has set up the Algalita Foundation to bring attention to this urgent ecological problem. See here for Algalita's website:

Tiny crocheted "Rubbish" piece by Texas contributor Evelyn Hardin hangs against a field of red opposite the exhibition's Greater Rubbish Vortex installation - a miniature cry from the wild.