Margaret Wertheim is an internationally noted science writer and artist whose work focuses on relations between science and the wider cultural landscape. A two-fold perspective animates her work: that science is a field of conceptual enchantment and also a socially embedded activity with political and communal consequences. Margaret is the author of six books, including a trilogy about the cultural history of physics: Pythagoras’ Trousers, The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, and Physics on the Fringe. She has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, New Scientist, Cabinet, Aeon and many other publications. Her essays have been included in Best American Science Writing, Best Australia Science Writing, and Best Writing About Mathematics. Margaret is a pioneer in communicating science to women. For ten years in her native Australia, she wrote monthly columns about science and technology for Australian Vogue and Elle Australia, and may be the only journalist in the world to have held such a position. She conceived, wrote and co-directed a six-part television science series – Catalyst – aimed at teenage girls (for ABC Australia). Her honors include the Scientia Medal for Science Communication (Australia), and the American Association of Physics Teachers prestigious Klopsteg Award for “conveying the excitement of physics” – the first woman to win this prize in 10 years. Margaret has worked on all seven continents and stood on the South Pole. She is director of the Institute For Figuring, the host institution of the Crochet Coral Reef project.
Christine Wertheim is a poet, performer, artist, critic, curator and collaborator. She has authored and edited eight books including three poetic suites – The Book of Me, mUtter-bAbel and +|’me’S-pace – and three literary anthologies, among them Feminaissance, and The n/Oulipean Analects. Her poetic work fuses graphics and text to explore the potentialities of the English tongue, and the relationships between suppressed infantile rage and global violence. Christine has a Phd. in literature and semiotics, and is a faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts, in the Department of Critical Studies where she teaches courses on art+feminisim, pataphysics, nonsense, and rubbish. She was formerly director of the Calarts MFA Writing Program and has written for many magazines including X-TRA and Jacket. She is co-director of the Institute For Figuring, the host institution of the Crochet Coral Reef project.
Together, Margaret and Christine co-founded the Institute For Figuring, a practice in which they create projects to engage audiences with the aesthetic dimensions of science and mathematics. Through the IFF they have created exhibitions for the Hayward Gallery (London), MassMOCA (North Adams, MA), Museum of Jurassic Technology (Los Angeles), Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, CA) and elsewhere. Their Crochet Coral Reef project – resulting from the sisters’ parallel lives in science and art – has been shown widely around the world including at the 2019 Venice Biennale, 2021 Helsinki Biennial, the Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh), Science Gallery (Dublin), Museum of Arts and Design (NYC), NYU-Abu Dhabi, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (Washington D.C.) The Wertheims are co-authors of the Crochet Coral Reef book – a celebration of the first decade of the Crochet Coral Reef project, (Institute For Figuring Press, 2015).
Core Reef Contributors
The Wertheims have incorporated into the Core Collection of Crochet Coral Reef sculptures that travel around the world many individual pieces by a selection of innovative and dynamically motivated crafters. It has been a pleasure to work these women (and a few men), and to be constantly surprised by the fruits of their labor and imagination. Many of these people have added new shoots, and sometimes entirely new branches, to the crochet “tree of life.”
Collectively we have achieved a level of crafting complexity only possible from a communal enterprise. Like the living reefs we emulate, our fiber-based reefs are produced through collaboration that echoes and amplifies one another’s aesthetic strengths.
The ecology of the Crochet Reef is rooted in a proposition that wondrous art can be achieved by all people, especially when working in tandem with others. Each of us inherits the novelties and pattern strategies invented by our predecessors and neighbors, and each of us contributes to the pool of possibility from which others then draw.
This group of women come from vastly diverse walks of life: among them are professional scientists and mathematicians, computer programers, teachers, librarians, home-makers, a costume designer, a geologist, a nurse, a sheep farmer, and the mysterious “Dr Axt.” Some are professional crafters, steeped in technique, others had never crocheted before until they came to the Reef. A singular contributor is our mother Barbara Wertheim, a pioneering Australian feminist who helped open the first women’s shelters in Australia in the 1970’s and who taught us to knit and sew as children, thus planting the seeds from which the Crochet Reef would grow. All of these women are artists – imaginative, generative, and materially adapt, they are imbued with creative power.
See here for more about these crafters and the community dimension of the project.