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Wild and woolly imaginations

To promote ocean awareness, crochet needle-wielding twins turn loose their ...

May 06, 2007|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

THESE days, the interior of Margaret and Christine Wertheim's rambling Highland Park home resembles an eccentric cross between an undersea documentary and a neighborhood yarn shop. Like the bottom of the ocean, most available surfaces appear to be covered with sea life of all colors, textures and varieties: corals, kelp, anemones, jellyfish and other aesthetically pleasing sea species.

However, these forms are created not by Mother Nature but with a crochet needle: Australian-born twin sisters Margaret and Christine, 48, with the aid of an international cadre of collaborators, are crocheting a coral reef. The project, as they describe it, pays "woolly homage" to an endangered natural wonder, Australia's Great Barrier Reef, through the traditional craft of crochet.

Lawrence Weschler, artistic director of the Chicago Humanities Festival, likes to call the project "the AIDS quilt of global warming."

The sisters agree. "Coral reefs are, as it were, the canaries down the mine for the global warming system," Margaret says with characteristic urgency during a conversation at the kitchen table. She is surrounded by bits and pieces of crocheted "coral," including reconfigurations of doilies snapped up at swap meets and craft fairs, as well as beaded wonders sent unsolicited by one of many crocheters who have become aware of the project.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 10, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
Crochet reef: An article in Sunday's Calendar section about the "Hyperbolic Crochet Reef" art project said that Margaret and Christine Wertheim purchased their house with Margaret's "beau" who "has since moved on." In fact, the person is Margaret's husband, Cameron Allan, who continues to be part of the Institute for Figuring, which is co-directed by the sisters.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 13, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
Crochet reef: An article in the May 6 Calendar section about the "Hyperbolic Crochet Reef" art project said that Margaret and Christine Wertheim purchased their house with Margaret's "beau," who "has since moved on." In fact, the person is Margaret's husband, Cameron Allan, who continues to be part of the Institute for Figuring, which is co-directed by the sisters.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 20, 2007 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
Crochet reefs: A May 6 article about the "Hyperbolic Crochet Reef" art project said that Margaret and Christine Wertheim purchased their house with Margaret's "beau" who "has since moved on." In fact, the person is Margaret's husband, Cameron Allan, who continues to be part of the Institute for Figuring, which is co-directed by the sisters.

"Coral reefs are dying out in part because of chemical pollutants and in part because coral reefs can only survive a temperature rise of about 1 degree for a short period of time," Margaret continues. The crochet reef, she says, "could potentially take over our lives -- it's already taken over our living room."

Still in the concept stage is what Christine calls the crochet reef's "satanic twin," the "Rubbish Vortex," a huge hanging sculpture to be crocheted of yarn created entirely from plastic bags by Helle Jorgensen, a Danish-born biologist-turned-artist who lives in Sydney, Australia, and was discovered independently crocheting sea creatures from yarn made from reused plastic bags.

The sisters are also creating an adjunct "Plastic Reef," much like their coral reef except that the material will be fabricated from plastic trash. Plastic is already piling up at their residence, where they have vowed to save their plastic refuse for a year as a towering example of modern society's dependence on the stuff.

The "Vortex, they say, will mirror not an endangered natural phenomenon but an alarming unnatural one: the Eastern and Western Garbage Patches of the Pacific, formed when garbage accumulates in the vortex of circulating currents. The Eastern Garbage Patch is believed to be roughly the size of Texas.

The plastic artworks have yet to be born but are coming, along with the "Hyperbolic Crochet Reef," to Hollywood's Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in early 2008. During the planned two-month show, visitors may contribute their own plastic trash to eventually become part of the "Plastic Reef." "In fact, the 'crochet reef' really exists to bring attention to the 'Rubbish Vortex,' " says Christine. "It has become the frame, with the rubbish one pushing the other to the edge."

The plastic problem

MARGARET and Christine hope that as the exhibition travels, each city will begin collecting plastic to make its own rubbish reef. "That's a lot of plastic," admits LACE executive director Carol Stakenas of the pending trash onslaught on her art space. "One of the first questions in my mind was, how do we accept this stuff in a state that doesn't attract bugs, et cetera?

"But I guess the bigger issue is, how do we frame this challenge, what are the different strategies for the future of this material? Part of it will be transformed into art, which potentially moves it into another realm at least for a while. We're aware of different industries starting to use recycled plastics, and we plan to form alliances with those companies.

"We're not sure how, but we want to share the struggle in dealing with this kind of refuse and not cover that part up, because that actually is the larger challenge of living in modern society."

The "Hyperbolic Reef" has already made its way into the art museum world. Bergamot Station's Track 16 Gallery includes examples of the crochet coral through May 19 in "The Powder Room," co-curated by Christine along with Georganne Deen. And three "sub-reefs," ranging from 2 feet by 2 feet to 7 feet by 2 feet, are on display at Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum through June 17 as part of its exhibition "6 Billion Perps Held Hostage! Artists Address Global Warming."

The curator of the show, Matt Wrbican, says he became familiar with the crochet reef through a friend and fellow curator at the Berkeley Art Museum. "She just one day blurted out: 'There are these crazy Australian women in L.A. who are crocheting a coral reef.' It's just so outrageous -- but so great for a lot of reasons."

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