Austria's Greatest Coral Reef: Crocheted Seas and Other Abstractions
Oct 5, 2023 – Apr 2, 2024
Schlossmuseum Linz, Austria
An exhibition of the Crochet Coral Reef is on show at Schlossmuseum Linz, which also debutes the new Austrian Satellite Reef.
Over 100,000 hours of female labor; 30,000 coral pieces; and 2,000 contributors. The Austrian Satellite Reef is a mistress-ful retort to the modernist obsession with “individual genius.” Here is art collectively produced on a scale rarely seen in the contemporary world, and dynamically illustrating mathematical underpinnings of textile craft.
For this installation, artists Christine Wertheim and Margaret Wertheim collaborated with Schlossmuseum Linz to design a suite of crochet reefs based on Upper Austrian folk-art traditions, including red-and-white cross stitch, blue-print fabrics, and surreal goldhauben hats. This collection of works comprises the Austrian Satellite Reef, which continues to grow even after the show has opened. Inspiration also comes from the symbolistic aesthetic of Gustav Klimt, who’s ‘golden era’ paintings served as a catalytic seed for a vast ‘coral wall painting’ – the Austrian Frieze – 8 meters wide x 2 meters high. Geographically, the works refer to an ancient coral sea whose fossilized remains are found throughout Upper Austria. 2,000 people contributed to this intense, sparkling installation. All their names are projected on the gallery walls and can be seen here.
Exhibition curated by Genoveva Rückert. Project managed by Petra Fohringer.
The exhibition also contains a freshly curated selection of Crochet Coral Reef sculptures by Christine and Margaret and their “Core Reef Contributors”, along with the massive ‘coral wall painting’ Five Fathoms Deep from the Baden-Baden Satellite Reef created in 2022 at Museum Frieder Burda. A panel listing names of the 4,000 German contributors to this work is also included in the exhibition and can be seen here.
Artist statement about the exhibition:
“To “abstract” means “to take from.” Claude Monet, a pioneer of modern art, took colors and forms from the beloved water lilies in his garden to create paintings that blurred the line between realistic representation and a kind of pure abstraction. Likewise, the crocheted coral reefs in this exhibition confound the distinction between ‘documentary’ and more evocative modes. They may invoke a sense of reality, but no one who has dived would confuse these woolen artefacts with their living counterparts. Rather than simulating the look of actual reefs, these works mimic the collective methodology by which real reefs are formed. Here, issues of representation and abstraction are put into play in dialog with the natural history collection of Schlossmuseum Linz.” – CHRISTINE & MARGARET WERTHEIM:
The Austrian Satellite Reef has been collectively curated by: Petra Fohringer, Romina Dodic Szepe, Petra Hansche, Gabriele Kainberger, Sandra Kratochwill and Genoveva Rückert in collaboration with the Wertheims – and with the assistance of Elisabeth Ajmi, Regina Demuth, Karin Gerber, Elisabeth Gierlinger Stelzer, Nina Hartl, Michaela Heidlmeir, Claudia Heidlmeir, Susanne Hennerbichler, Anna Höllhuber, Ulrike Mally, Maria Neumüller, Lilia Obermüller, Ulrike Ozlberger, Zoa Reitböck, Elisabeth Selig, Alexandra Springer, Julia Stöckl, Juliana Zapata Leal.
The exhibition also includes two specially commissioned 3D-printed models of hyperbolic surfaces by mathematician David Bachman.
Coral Reefs and Global Warming
The night Christine and Margaret conceived of the Crochet Coral Reef project in 2005 they joked that if the Great Barrier Reef in their home country, Australia, ever died out, their handcrafted reef may be something to remember it by. This sentiment is no longer a jest. As the Linz exhibition opens, water temperatures around the GBR are at historic highs and, with an El Nino event getting under way in the Pacific Ocean, it is expected that during the Australian summer of 2023/24 temperatures will get higher still, putting vast sections of reef at risk from coral bleaching. Scientists now predict that if global warming continues, reefs worldwide may be wiped out this century.
Crochet Reefs and Mathematical Knowing
What does it mean to know mathematics? Corals, kelps, sea sponges and nudibranchs are biological manifestations of negative curvature surfaces, a type of geometric structure epitomized by the hyperbolicplane, an alternative to the Euclideanplane we learn about in school. Though human mathematicians spent hundreds of years trying to prove that hyperbolic geometry was impossible, nature has been playing with its possibilities for millions of years, notably in the shapes of reef organisms. While the Euclidean plane has zero curvature, its geometric cousins – the sphere and hyperbolic plane – respectively have positive and negative curvature; making these surfaces geometric analogs of zero plus the positive and negative numbers. So we may ask: does a head of coral ‘understand’ negative curvature space? The Crochet Coral Reef project postulates that in some sense it does – for corals make hyperbolic spaces in the structure of their being. Also we may ask: Do crafters making hyperbolic corals for the Crochet Reef project also ‘understand’ non-Euclidean math? This project proposes that they do. Indeed, women have been crocheting ruffled-lace hyperbolic doilies – and writing out algorithms (or patterns) for such forms – since at least the 19th century. In this craft we witness an embodied form of mathematical knowing implemented by fingers manipulating yarn – a truly digital technology.
Red and white cross stitch embroideries (“kreuzstich”) from the Schlossmuseum’s collection of Upper Austrian folk art.
AUSTRIAN SATELLITE REEF – Project Call-Out March 2023
In March 2023, Schlossmuseum Linz in collaboration with Christine and Margaret Wertheim invited crocheters everywhere to contribute to the production of an Austrian Satellite Reef. Christine provided inspirational sketches based on local Austrian handcraft traditions.