DIY feminist science writer Margaret Wertheim discusses the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef
What, to you, is the feminist aspect of this project?
Basically, we think of it as a project that exists at the intersection of art, science, environmental consciousness, community art practice and feminism. Christine and I regard ourselves as feminists with every fiber of our being. Our mother was a leading feminist in Australia in the 1970s. We were brought up with feminist presuppositions and we believe that the collective work that women do (and have done) throughout history and even today is often ignored and undervalued.
This project has been a way to engage thousands and thousands of women. We've now had at least 5,000 women who have actively made models that have been exhibited in one of our exhibitions. Collectively, these women have built something that is really extraordinary using a traditionally feminine handicraft. Part of what's important for us about this is it's a way of giving voice and recognition to what is often been regarded as a very undervalued feminine labor.
So, you're teaching about something assumed to be complex like mathematics, while utilizing an art form often dismissed as trivial busywork, like crochet?
Eric Long, Smithsonian Institute. Wertheim and her reef.
One of the things that I think has struck so many people about the project is that it combines a traditional feminine handicraft with really important mathematics. And it should be said that the mathematics of hyperbolic space, when it was discovered in the nineteenth century, actually, started a whole new branch of geometry called Non-Euclidean Geometry.
Non-Euclidean Geometry is the geometry and mathematics that underly the theory of relativity, which will therefore be used to tell us about the shape of the universe as a whole. One of the things we think is important about this project is that it tends to subvert our ideas about the separation of disciplines. So often in our society, you have the mathematicians over there doing their mathematics, and the women over there doing their handicraft and the environmentalists over in another corner doing there thing, and we tend to think if these as separate disciplines. But in fact, this project brings them all together and suggests that mathematics, environmentalism, handicraft and community art are not necessarily separate categories of human activity.