The simplest way to understand hyperbolic space is to think of a lettuce leaf. It’s a two-dimensional surface on which the curvature is bunched up in such a way that it puts a twist on flat Euclidean geometry. For years, mathematicians had a difficult time modeling the space visually until the late 1990s when Daina Taimina, a mathematician at Cornell, discovered that the complex shapes could be reproduced through crochet.
Flash forward a handful of years to the day when Margaret Wertheim read about it and began to crochet the shapes herself. Her twin sister Christine soon joined in and before long they realized they had stumbled onto a series of forms they recognized as coral.
That was the genesis of what is now called the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, an art installation currently on tour in London before it returns to its home in Los Angeles at the Institute for Figuring (presently physically located in the sisters’ shared house). The IFF was set up by the Wertheims as an exploration of aesthetic forms in science. Margaret is a science writer with a background in physics; Christine is a lecturer at the California Institute of the Arts. The meeting of the sisters’ backgrounds is proving to have stunning results, as the popularity of the Reef can attest.