Coral Crochet – defending ocean beds with threads

It doesn't matter if you're black or white; it matters if you're green - even in the art business

Despite our democracy, colour still controls our environment, quite literally so. Across the world, nations are tied up in green policies and red tape, Africa has endangered Black rhinos and England suffers whitewashed investigations. The Kyoto convention addresses worldwide ecological issues en masse, but with 150 species becoming extinct every day, we’re losing species en mass, too. Instead of being blue about green issues, a knot of concerned citizens are putting their threads together to address them. Their weapon? Art, of all things; bizarre, beautiful fabric sculpture, to be exact. Who are these environmental warriors? A handful of middle-aged women sitting and crocheting. Their weapons? Thread and imagination.

One woman, one needle (and don't forget the physics)

I walk into Greatmore Studios to find two ladies arguing with needles in their hands. Ok, they’re only crochet needles, but further alarming is hearing “no, no, it’s based on the fact that you’re working with the fourth dimension” when you thought you were coming to look at a bunch of colourful, abstract doilies. By no means beyond discussing alternative mathematics, I quickly realise that this is what makes the WARP unique – it’s more than a craft group making pretty things.

WARP stands for Woodstock Art Reef Project; a satellite of the Worldwide Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project created by Margaret and Christine Wertheim. Locally, it comprises a handful of creative Captonians who meet weekly to crochet three dimensional textile sculptures that mimic the beauty and meditate on the destruction of precious coral reefs.

Why are the reefs dying and how did they get involved?

Expert analysis predicts the complete destruction of coral reefs within forty years at the current rate of depletion. Coral reefs are highly sensitive to temperature rises, and the advent of global warming is threatening marine populations across the world, especially the Great Barrier Reef.

The inspiration behind this local branch of coral campaigners, Leonie Hofmeyr-Juritz, got her inspiration from a Ted Talk (a US non-profit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading) about the flagship project.  It’s not just about the cause, though. When it comes to the method, it’s also about complex geometry.

Mathematical art and bookish crafts

The project bridges disparate professional fields by investigating and embodying “the aesthetic and poetic dimensions of science and mathematics” as founder, Margaret Wertheim puts it. Coral formations express hyperbolic geometry, and the only known way to physically model these structures is with crochet. Even intelligent computer programmes don’t manage that marvellously. Kudos to clever crafters!

For those interested in the intellectual element embedded its production process and structure, there's a related book on the topic. “Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes” received the 2009 award from for the oddest title, officially making the international movement one of the world’s weirder art/science projects. But it's also one of the widest spread ones.

Worldwide impact and attention, craft is cool

Since its inception in 2005, the project has received attention suggesting a wider appeal.  It was readily exhibited in The Andy Warhol Museum and Chicago Humanities Festival (2007). Its viral spread to interest groups across the globe meshes concerned global citizens using tradition to change the future.

The established cliché that craft belongs in the kitchen with barefoot, pregnant women receives a wonderful update from this project. This project involves 99% proactive, professional and educated women whose craft skills create more than lacy tea-cozies. That's pretty cool. (Though tea-cozies are cool, too!)

The project has enjoyed initial support from various contributors, mostly in the form of materials like wool, mohair samples and even tape.  The Greatmore Art Studio provides the space.

Looking to spread the love

The project is looking for fiscal “per centimetre funding”, volunteers and opportunities to spread the word to the world of precious, beautiful marine cities through precious work from women in beautiful port cities like Cape Town.

Regarding an uncertain future for the local project, group co-ordinator, Maria van Gass, is positive, “it propagates itself, she says” And then she corrects herself. “Hyperbolically self propagates” and I can see the sea stars twinkling in her eye.

By Jess Henson

Catch WARP every Thursday afternoon 2.30pm – 5.30pm. For more info contact 

Greatmore Studios, 7-49 Greatmore Stree | Woodstock

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