Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef

June 11 - August 17, 2008
The Hayward Project Space, Southbank Center, London
View of hyperbolic crochet coral reef sculpture installed in gallery next to windows.

Dr Axt’s “Reefer Madness”  in the entrance to the Hayward.

Photo © Institute For Figuring

Archival page – still under construction

The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef exhibition opened at The Hayward Project Space on June 11th, 2008.

The exhibition included an expanded version of the Bleached Reef, a new configuration of the Ladies Silurian Reef, the beautifully archaic Branched Anemone Garden, and the ever-growing Toxic Reef (on view in the foyer of Royal Festival Hall). On show for the first time was the wondrously surreal Chicago Cambrian Reef (curated by IFF contributor Aviva Alter), plus a new formation of the Beaded Reef by master beaders Rebecca Peapples and Sue Von Ohlsen. The exhibition also debuted several new plastic installations: The Exploding Plastic Inevitable Reef (with hot-pink sand by Kathleen Greco), and the Bottle Tree Grove (featuring works by Christine Wertheim, Evelyn Hardin and Nadia Severns). Hanging elements in the show included the all-plastic-bag Rubbish Vortex by Australian contributor Helle Jorgensen, a flotilla of jellyfish by Irish crafter Inga Hamilton, and Dr Axt’s psychedelic coral-cloud “Reefer Madness.”

In addition to the IFF reefs, the exhibition debuted the amazing new UK Reef, constructed by crafters across the UK (with contributions from Ireland, and even Australia—hey it’s a former colony). The UK Reef was unique in its structure, for in this instance all the crochet pieces are attached to giant “reef balls” that simulate the actual concrete reef balls used to help regenerate devastated reefs. This marvelous innovation was dreamed up by Cathy Woolley of the Hayward Gallery, who worked with local London sculptors to realize the vision.

On Friday, June 13, 2008 the Southbank center hosted an all-day symposium inspired by the Crochet Reef Project. The Art and Craft of Saving the World invited speakers such as crochet reef creators Margaret and Christine Wertheim; mathematician Dr Daina Taimina, inventor of hyperbolic crochet; radical UK crafters, environmentalists, and coral reef biologists.

View of hyperbolic crochet coral reef sculpture installed in gallery.

The Plastic Exploding Inevitable Reef with pink plastic Jelly-Yarn “sand” by Kathleen Greco and white spires crocheted from cotton and stiffened with glue by Evelyn Hardin, plus bottle anemones made from craft-lace by Evelyn and Christine and beaded yarn anemones by Sarah Simons.

View of hyperbolic crochet coral reef sculpture installed in gallery.

Nadia Severn’s Bottle Tree Garden—made from plastic water bottles (including Perrier and Dasani) encrusted with hyperbolic crochet corals. With this exhibition we welcome to the Reef Project several new UK Contributors whose works were incorporated into The Hayward show in situ: Katy Bevan (of the UK Craft Council), Anita Bruce (a fiber artist who has just completed her BFA and makes the most incredible crochet sea creatures from scientific wire), Rosy Sykes (a master of the anemone form), Refia Sacks (who crocheted tiny hyberbolic corals from silver jeweler’s wire), and Beverly Griffith (another anemone innovator who works equally fluidly in yarn and plastic).

Detail of hyperbolic crochet coral reef sculpture.

The brand new Red Reef with a large coral pile by Cindy Bennish and Anitra Menning. At right is a pilar coral cluster by Christine Wertheim and at left a grove of coral spires by Evelyn Hardin. Each iteration of the Crochet Reef exhibition demands significant re-curation. In this case curators Margaret and Christine completely reworked the various sub-reefs of what we have previously called the Ladies Silurian Reef. This time round we clustered it into a Red Reef, a Green and Purple Reef, an Orange and White and Blue Reef, and an Orange and Black Reef (which features a grove of large anemones with video tape tentacles.)

View of hyperbolic crochet coral reef sculpture installed in gallery.

The main gallery room at The Hayward exhibition. Foreground: the Red Reef; background: the Rubbish Vortex. The Rubbish Vortex is crocheted from used plastic shopping bags by Australian Contributor Helle Jorgensen. The IFF commissioned this work from Helle in late 2006 and we are delighted to be able to exhibit its final, stunning, realization here. At its base the Vortex appears to be growing out of the floor from a network of coral-colored roots or arteries. Its shadow on the back wall eerily evokes a mushroom cloud—an unintended reminder of the devastation of Bikini Atoll and a nice resonance with the IFF’s Toxic Reef on exhibition in the adjacent space in Royal Festival Hall.

View of hyperbolic crochet coral reef sculpture installed in gallery.

The Red Reef, with sea slugs by Marianne Midelburg at left and a large branched anemone form by Christine Wertheim and tall white spires by Evelyn Hardin. Glimpsed in the background is the Orange and Blue Reef with a grove of pale pink pillar corals by Heather McCarren.

View of hyperbolic crochet coral reef sculpture installed in gallery.

In the main gallery is also a marvelous collection of what we have come to call “Chicago Cambrian” forms by fiber artist Aviva Alter. After coming to an IFF workshop in the Windy City (where we taught her to crochet), Aviva set off on her own evolutionary path and quickly developed a whole new genera of crochet reef organisms. These chimeric, hybrid, morphing constructions call to mind the seminal period in the history of life on earth known as the Cambrian Explosion, around 500 million years ago. Aviva is now working with a small group of fellow Chicagoans (Jessica Stapp, Kat Ramsland, Barbara Wakesfield, Amber Reyes, Catherine Chandler), to expand her techniques and bring into being a new Chicago Cambrian Reef.

View of hyperbolic crochet coral reef sculpture installed in a vitrine.

The Bleached Reef, Margaret’s curatorial triumph. In The Hayward, the Bleached Reef and Beaded Reef are exhibited in a small separate room just beyond the main gallery. Darkened and lit with small spot lights this chapel-like space has been dubbed the “Beautiful Holy Jewel Grotto”. Fine perspex cases lend these exhibits the immediate feel of being in an aquarium, while watery reflections bouncing off the surface add to this illusion. In the background are two exquisite octopus forms by UK contributor Anita Bruce. Next to the wall text is a delicate piece of fire coral by Helle Jorgensen. Features of the Bleached Reef include a gorgeous white and red sea slug by Marianne Midelburg, piles of rubble coral by Margaret and Christine, a wondrous rock-coral pile by Nancy Lewis, Heather McCarren’s set of tiny orange pseudospheres, Sarah Simons beaded welk egg cases, Helle’s coral pieces and sea urchins and sea cucumbers, and at front a pile of crochet balls by unknown Chinese factory workers.

Detail of hyperbolic crochet coral reef sculpture.

The Beaded Reef, with masterworks by Sue Von Ohlsen and Rebecca Peapples. This exquisite reef is composed from beaded hyperbolic pieces by Sue and Rebecca, both master beaders who realized, after reading the IFF’s book about hyperbolic crochet, that they could make these forms using traditional beading techniques. Sue uses peyote stitch to make stunning psuedospheres in graduated metalic beads—the large bluish and greenish forms are hers. Rebecca works with herringbone stitch to make tiny, impossibly delicate forms that look as if they have come from the imagination of a Byzantine queen. The orange florets are hers—these are actually psuedospheres with long trailing tails.

View of hyperbolic crochet coral reef sculpture installed in gallery.

Lacework octopii by Anita Bruce, crocheted from fine wire (at left) and fine string (at right).

Detail of hyperbolic crochet coral reef sculpture.

The Toxic Reef, with white pilars by Evelyn Hardin, saran-wrap anemones by Pate Conaway, giant orange corals by Christine Wertheim, pink curlicue patch by Ildiko Szabo, orange nets by Margaret and Christine, blue plastic pillars by Clare O’Callaghan, and giant pink coral by Daina Taimina (this form was lent for the opening of the exhibition only and is not a part of the longer-term installation).

Detail of hyperbolic crochet coral reef sculpture.

Details of the Toxic Reef. At left, blue plastic anemones by Clare O’callaghan, made from New York Times plastic bags embellished with ring-pull tops and plastic drinking straws. Clare has made an entire art out of recycling New York Times wrappers, a specificity which proves that no ecological niche in the crochet-hyperbolic-universe is too tiny to produce giganticly wondrous results. At right, a grove of white plastic-bag pilars by Margaret Wertheim, with plastic-bag coral form by Daina Taimina and her daughter, blue plastic pilars by Clare and orange+blue yarn corals by Shari Porter.

List of Contributors to The Hayward exhibition:

  • Christine Wertheim
  • Margaret Wertheim
  • Sarah Simons
  • Evelyn Hardin
  • Dr Axt
  • Helen Bernasconi
  • Marianne Midelburg
  • Helle Jorgensen
  • Barbara Wertheim
  • Daina Taimina
  • Heather McCarren
  • Anitra Menning
  • Clare O’Callaghan
  • Shari Porter
  • Vonda N. McIntyre
  • Ildiko Szabo
  • Inga Hamilton
  • Rebecca Peapples
  • Sue Von Ohlsen
  • Nancy Lewis
  • Kathleen Greco
  • Aviva Alter
  • Catherine Chandler
  • Pate Conaway
  • Kristine Brandel
  • Cindy Bennish
  • Nadia Severns
  • Arlene Minzter


  • Paula Peng
  • Allie Gerlach
  • Spring Pace
  • David Orozco
  • Karen Frazer
  • Karen Page
  • Lynn Latta
  • Diana Simons
  • Barbara Robinson
  • Jill Schrier
  • Dagmar Frinta
  • Njoya Angrum
  • Barbara Van Elsen
  • Pamela Stiles
  • Jessica Stapp
  • Kat Ramsland
  • Barbara Wakesfield
  • Amber Reyes
  • Ranu Mukherjee’s class at CCA
  • Katie Bevan
  • Rosie Sykes
  • Refia Sacks
  • Beverly Griffith
  • Anita Bruce
  • and Sien Chu Kerk.

Exhibition Press Coverage

The exhibition received excellent press, including features in The Guardian, The Times, New Scientist and Craft Magazine.

The Guardian
New Scientist

Partnership with Thames21

One of the core goals of the IFF Crochet Reef project is to draw attention to the tsunami of plastic trash that is flooding into our oceans. From the beginning, the Hayward team have embraced this goal and sought to bring it into prominence within the exhibition. We are delighted to have the partnership here of the environmental organization Thames21, whose mission is to help clean up the banks of the Thames, which (along with river-ways everywhere) is being inundated with trash. In March, Thames21 director Chris Coode escorted the exhibition team on a mile-long expedition along the Thames bank to collect plastic bags. The bags were cleaned and brought to the Hyperbolic Crochet workshop at the Southbank Center on the weekend of March 16 and 17, 2008. Thames21 has agreed to provide a supply of genuine grubbed-up-from-the-Thames plastic bags for production of UK Reef forms. We are delighted to announce that while not everyone is willing to crochet used plastic bags, a number of the workshop participants embraced the idea. Indeed, several had come with their own plastic bags, including bright orange Sainsbury’s and Okada bags, which happen to be the exact colour featured in the Toxic Reef. We are especially eager to have UK Reef contributions in plastic, and we encourage all participants to think about using their own plastic discards in their reef forms.

More information about Thames21 and their clean-up work here.

A group of people standing on a beach.

The Hayward Gallery exhibition team at the Isle of Dogs, digging up plastic bags under the guidance of Thames21 director Chris Coode. Photo by Cathy Woolley.

View of beach littered with trash.

Chris Coode from Thames21 digging up plastic bags embedded in the banks of the Thames at the Isle of Dogs, March 2008. Photo by Cathy Woolley.

The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef exhibition at the Hayward Gallery is generously supported by the Crafts Council, with additional assistance from the Norton Family Foundation and George Loudon. The symposium was generously supported by a grant from the Crafts Council.

The Crochet Reef has been produced with support from the Annenberg Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Norton Family Foundation, and Daniel and Joanna Rose Foundation.

Special thanks to Ralph Rugoff and Clare West. Production on the UK Reef was managed for the Crafts Council by Katy Bevan, and for the Hayward Gallery by Becca Connock and Cathy Woolley.