Coral reef ecosystems or the rain forests of the sea, are perhaps one of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring natural environments on the planet. It is no wonder they have inspired countless artists from all means of life to create pieces of art ranging from water color paint to glassblowing. Just as ecosystems exist in a wide variety of forms in the nature, art has many diverse forms in human culture as well. One intricate and quite grand example of art inspired by coral reef ecosystems is the new art exhibit called Crochet Coral Reefs: TOXIC SEAS. It is a part of the exhibit Crochet Coral Reef that focuses on climate change and ocean health. This passion project developed by Margaret and Christine Wertheim, in 2005, has taken crafting and dedication to a whole new level. The twin sisters have been working as partners on the art project for the last decade and will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of their “Crochet Coral Reef” this year with this new installation.


Crochet Coral Reef Inspiration

The Wertheim sisters created the project with Australia’s infamous Great Barrier Reef in mind as well as its notorious state of distress too. Due to the changing of ocean composition and temperature, coral and other organisms that call the ocean home are faced with stress they have never encountered before. Unfortunately many of these coral reefs can’t cope and are dying off.

The sisters tune in to this ever changing coral environment  by exhibiting coral formations with varying degrees of fatigue. These exhibits range from thriving coral reef forests to coral organisms on the brink of death due to coral bleaching events or pollution such as trash. Being Australian natives themselves, the inspiration for the art was significant and special to the twin sisters who chose to highlight the much bigger environmental issue of diminishing coral reefs in this specific project.

The exhibit consists of three main “habitats” ranging from a giant Coral Forest to bleached coral reefs. The exhibit mixes environmental science with science fiction to convey a need for action due to human impact on coral reefs. The mission is to evoke a sense of responsibility on viewers to hopefully spark a change and inspire conservation.





Algorithmic Crochet

The sisters chose the art of algorithmic crocheting to portray coral ecosystems in the ocean environment. Crochet is a complicated and intricate form of art that is driven by a pattern or algorithm. This basic pattern, when repeated enough times, will eventually lead to a distinct shape. The sisters use crocheted yarn mixed with plastic trash for their project to convey their message of declining coral habitat. They focused their design on mathematics, marine biology, feminist art practices, and craft to produce large scale coral reef landscapes, very much like the ones you’d find under the ocean’s surface off the coast of Australia.


When asked about the art form the Wertheim’s said, “Crochet and other handicrafts, like knitting and tatting, are the original ‘digital’ technologies’—they’re created by manipulating our digits. Historically the origins of computer punch cards are in the punch cards used for weaving. We see our work on the Crochet Coral Reef: TOXIC SEAS as fitting into this history—it’s about feminine handicraft and equally about the power of algorithms. It’s also about mathematics because the frilly crenelated forms we construct are representations of hyperbolic geometry. We’re using this alternative mathematical model, just as nature does because real corals and other reef organisms are biological manifestations of hyperbolic surfaces.”

The sisters continue to go on about the art form, saying how it is absolutely ironic that coral organisms, that lack brains, have been making hyperbolic or exaggerated structures for hundreds of millions of years while humans thought it was impossible and spent hundreds of years trying to prove they were right in this notion. The sisters, while artists, find it sensational how much advanced, complicated math is actually embedded into the natural world. This also played a tremendous part in their inspiration and execution of the exhibit itself.


Partners and where to see the display

The sisters partnered with the Institute for Figuring for this project which is displayed at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York starting September 30, 2016 until February 5, 2017. The Institute for Figuring is a non-profit organization based out of Los Angeles, California that focuses on naturally occurring art as well as manipulated art from scientific phenomena like coral reef formation and the coral reef decline currently occurring in the ocean. The whole collection is featured within a larger collection highlighting artists who transform traditional mediums.

To check out more on the exhibit go to the Museum of Art and Design’s website or click here and make sure to pack your bags for New York this September to go check out the ladies incredible, inspirational, and hopefully motivating art work!



References and photos courtesy of