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Margaret & Christine Wertheim


Margaret and Christine Wertheim’s artwork highlights the poetic and aesthetic dimensions of science and mathematics, transforming abstract concepts into tactile material forms. For the biennial, the Wertheims will work with local Finnish communities to crochet a coral reef in Helsinki.

In 2003, Margaret and Christine Wertheim (b. 1958) founded their Los Angeles based art-practice, the Institute For Figuring, as a framework for engaging audiences with ideas from scientific fields such as physics, logic, and computation. Margaret (a science writer), and Christine (a poet and former painter), are driven by a belief that concepts which are usually described by equations and algorithms can also be made accessible through playful physical activities. Hyperbolic geometry can crocheted; fractals can be built from business cards; and the logic underlying computers can be represented in drawings. The sisters aim to make “abstract” concepts understandable and pleasurable through “material play.”

Margaret & Christine Wertheim: Crochet Coral Reef / Helsinki Satellite Reef, 2021 ©Maija Toivanen/HAM/Helsinki Biennial 2021

Crochet Coral Reef / Helsinki Satellite Reef, 2021

Emblematic of their work is their global-scale participatory project, the Crochet Coral Reef. This unique intersection of art, science and mathematics marries an exploration of non-Euclidean geometry with traditional handicraft while calling attention to the destruction of coral reefs by climate change. Here, the sisters work with communities around the world to crochet large-scale installations that simulate living reefs.

The project responds to the environmental crisis of global warming and to the escalating problem of oceanic plastic trash by highlighting not only the damage humans are doing to Earth’s ecology, but also our power for positive action. The project has been done in New York, London, Riga, Abu Dhabi and many other places, engaging more than 10,000 participants so far. As part of Helsinki Biennial 2021, the Wertheims will work with local Finnish communities to crochet a reef in Helsinki.

Artwork location: Vallisaari and Helsinki Central Library Oodi

Photo 1: Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring. Coral Forest at Lehigh University Arts Galleries (PA). Photo courtesy LUAG by Stephanie Veto.

Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring

Crochet Coral Reef
Helsinki Satellite Reef

Yarn, cotton, silk, and other fibers; videotape, plastic bags, and plastic threads; sono-tube, chicken wire, and felt

The Helsinki Satellite Reef is part of the worldwide Crochet Coral Reef project by Christine and Margaret Wertheim of the Institute For Figuring.

Commissioned by HAM/Helsinki Biennial 2021