Friday, June 8, 2012

Textiles in Museums: The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef - The Föhr Reef

A few days ago I posted about the museum of art on the island of Föhr, where my family and I are spending a holiday. I certainly would have gone to see the museum at some point during our stay, no matter what, even despite the limitations due to the fire earlier this year. But there was also a special point of interest that drew me there rather quickly after our arrival on the island. When we had started browsing the officially published list of activities for tourists I had noticed an entry for a “Crochet Meeting for the Coral Reef” at the museum. A special maritime kind of guerilla knitting, I wondered? An article on the children’s page of the local island newspaper brought some enlightenment:

Of course, the museum had some information (in German) on their homepage.
And then I started researching the internet.
The Föhr Reef is a satellite of the international art project „The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef”  which was started by Margaret and Christine Wertheim and their Institute for Figuring, they use hyperbolic crochet forms to create large communal pieces  of art. There is a blog, too, but when I first looked before writing this, the last post had been published over a year ago .
Strangely enough, when I was about 12 years old I spent quite some time doing what they call „hyperbolic“ crochet – only I did not know that I was doing a model solution for a kind of space that even mathematicians hadn’t solved at that stage. I was just making wild skirts for my Barbies, because I wanted to be a fashion designer. Had I only known what I was doing! I might be a famous mathematician by now (except for my belief about the lack of mathematical talent...)
Anyway – hyperbolic crochet entered the art scene after Latvian mathematician DainaTaimina   had the idea of producing models of hyperbolic space in crochet
She has published a book on this, and there is an official book published by the Institute for Figuring.
The Föhr Museum also has a link to a German pdf-version of instructions on their homepage. 
So it turned out that our holiday was extremely ill-timed: I was too late to participate in the crochet sessions. The announcement in the list of activities was a mistake, the last session had taken place on May 20th. They were already assembling the reef. And we had timed our departure from the island, which included reservations on the overnight train, for exactly that hour when the display would be opened... So all there was left that I could do was my little research, and the visit to the museum, trying to catch a glimpse.

All over the museum’s premises you would encounter little bits of crochet coral: in the shop, outside decoration on trees, and in the museum restaurant.

On display is the official postcard of the international coral reef project:

And there is a postcard of the Föhr satellite on sale, too:

At that stage you were still allowed to look down onto the assembly area where the complete reef would ultimately be on display. They were mounting the Föhr production of crochet corals onto specially built wooden constructions which would then be integrated with several similar pieces of the international reef. Ultimately, the exhibition will travel on to other places. The guard assumed that the assembly area would closed off a few days later until the official opening, so I was lucky to catch this glimpse:

So this is a very inofficial glimpse of the possibilities. I was fascinated by the ingenuity of the makers, and the many many possibilities of turning crochet into ‘maritime art’.

During the time I was there, a group went on a tour through the museum, and while I kept trying to avoid them on most of my personal tour of the entire house, I could not escape them when standing in awe of the reef. These are approximate translations of some of the comments I heard:
  • They must have lots of money on this island if they can throw it away on stuff like this.
  • I’m too stupid to understand this kind of art.
  • This is carnival in the psychiatric institution!
  • They shouldn’t be allowed to charge any entry fee for this place at all.
  • What’s this supposed to be.
Their guide’s interesting commentary and explanations did not really reach them.
What do you think – is this art?

That's how much I got to see when I went there last Tuesday. But it's not the end of the story yet. More to follow soon.


  1. May I use one of your photos for a blog on environmental art (and fiber art)? My blog is and I would credit you as Uta Lenk.

  2. Thanks for asking, Julie - please do, and I look forward to reading your blog on a sort of regular basis.