Crochet Coral Reef

The Crochet Coral Reef project will be on exhibit in the main gallery of the Lehigh University Art Galleries (LUAG) from Sept. 12 to Dec. 8.

Crochet Coral Reef Exhibit to Open Sept. 12

The unique and colorful woolen installations put focus on climate change.

Soon the main gallery of the Lehigh University Art Galleries (LUAG) will come to life with intricately crocheted coral reefs. 

The Crochet Coral Reef project, which brings together the work of crocheters from Europe to the United States, aims to spark conversations about climate change. The artists hope that their colorful coral figures will draw attention to the impact that global warming, rising sea temperatures and pollution have on the world.

The Crochet Coral Reef project was inspired by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Twin sisters Christine and Margaret Wertheim, who grew up in Australia and witnessed the ongoing deterioration of the vulnerable reef, converged their unlikely passions of math and art to raise awareness to the threats humans pose on the environment. The Wertheims are co-founders of the Institute for Figuring, a non-profit organization “dedicated to the poetic and aesthetic dimensions of science and mathematics.”

The Crochet Coral Reef project encompasses a blend of math, art and science, all intertwined through hyperbolic crochet, a type of crochet that takes inspiration from geometric shapes, according to crochetcoralreef.org

The goal of the Wertheim sisters in creating the project was to spread awareness and knowledge of the dangers of climate change, overfishing, and pollution, and to use the Great Barrier Reef as an example of the effects pollution has on the rest of the world, according to crochetcoralreef.org. The exhibition will be made up of “reef” made out of crochet with garbage, such as plastic water bottles, scattered throughout. 

“Issues that are of interest, and also of concern in our world, are really important to be thinking about in art. One of the most important issues that we're grappling with right now is the issue of climate change and the environment. So we're really keen to be doing exhibitions and programs that are relevant, that are engaging people in different ways,” said William Crow, director of the Lehigh University Art Galleries. 

The project, which is currently featured at the Venice Biennale, a premier global exhibition of contemporary art, will be introduced to the Lehigh campus on Sept. 12 in the LUAG main gallery in Zoellner Arts Center. It will be on campus until Dec. 7. 

Six events, free and open to the public, are planned: 

  • A hands-on crochet teaching session will be held Wednesday, Sept. 11, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., where participants can discover connections between art, math, and science and contribute to the Lehigh satellite reef. Spaces will be available by RSVP to luag@lehigh.edu
  • Margaret Wertheim will be sharing her and her sister’s story on Thursday, Sept. 12, at 5 p.m. in Baker Hall. She will present on how she and her twin sister converged their passions to create a project that they hope will inspire environmental change. 
  • Raise the Reef Tuesdays will be held Tuesdays, beginning Sept. 17, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. The workshops will feature a crochet coral workshop led by staff from Conversational Threads Fiber Arts Studio, a yarn store in nearby Emmaus, Pa. 
  • Family Days will be held Sept. 28, Oct. 26 and Nov. 23 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. These days present an opportunity for young people ages 6-12 to view art from the Lehigh Art Gallery. 
  • Reading and the Reef is a collaborative initiative with the Lehigh University Libraries to celebrate the opening of the new reading room in Zoellner Arts Center on Tuesday, Oct. 29 from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. This will include a tour of the Crochet Coral Reef project and a workshop.
  • The closing celebration of the Crochet Coral Reef will be Tuesday, Dec. 3 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and will include a viewing of the finalized art. The project continues until Dec. 8.

Crow noted that the art gallery team strives to bring in works of art that maximize public value and encourage students to interact with and learn from the art. The Lehigh University Art Gallery’s mission is to unite people from different backgrounds and experiences through art projects like the Crochet Coral Reef. 

“It can really become a platform where people are in dialogue with one another who might not normally be in dialogue with one another. And for me, I think that's a real strength of a university. That is how we create shape and test knowledge: We bring very disparate things together and challenge them,” said Crow. 

The Crochet Coral Reef will add a unique spin on the conventional discussions about climate change that usually take the form of lectures by adding a visual aspect that will allow people to see how humans can have an impact on the environment. By reframing the conversation and engaging a wide range of interests, the Wertheim sisters have been able to make the topic of climate change more accessible, according to Crow. 

“I think what started as an idea became this really involved, community-based project that has engaged people in cities all over the world, thousands if not millions of people now,” said Crow.

Story by Kelley Barrett

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