A work constantly in progress, the Crochet Coral Reef is an installation of ten textile pieces at the Denver Art Museum, part of its summer exhibition, Spun: Adventures In Textiles. Through the project's Denver Satellite Reef, museum visitors have a chance to contribute to the installation directly, by coming in any Saturday or Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and crocheting a piece of the reef.
"As we were kind of exploring different installations that would relate to this big textile initiative that has been spearheaded by the re-installation of our own textile collection, the Crochet Coral Reef was one of those things that popped up on the radar," says Jenna Madison, manager of studio and artists programs at the DAM. "We contacted the Institute for Figuring [the Crochet Coral Reef organization started by Margaret and Christine Wertheim in California], and got the ball rolling about when and if we could get the pieces installed onsite."
The Crochet Coral Reef is both an environmental and educational project involving a global community, everyone from expert crafters to beginning crocheters, all led by the Wertheim sisters. The Denver Satellite Reef is just one of many offshoots, which have been installed in New York, Chicago, London, Dublin and other cities around the world.
See also: - Spun spins a museum-wide web of textile-related exhibits at the Denver Art Museum - 100 Colorado Creatives: The Ladies Fancywork Society - DIY feminist writer Margaret Wertheim discusses the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef
Interactive exhibits aren't out of the ordinary at the DAM, but the idea that visitors have the ability to directly contribute to the reef is something unique to this project. "One of the things that really struck us as an institution -- and me particularly as an educator -- was this community connection," says Madison. For other site-specific reefs, she explains, global contributions come in and the satellite reefs are built in parts. But this satellite has been created to be exclusively Denver.
"What we decided to do was a little bit different -- we wanted the Denver Satellite Reef to be Denver-specific. So rather than inviting folks from all over the world, which is where Christine and Margaret's network has expanded to, we got our own core group of contributors to start our reef," says Madison. And now that group will be expanded: On Saturdays and Sundays, anyone of any knitting skill level is invited to learn the hyperbolic crochet process and be a part of the summer-long project. Pieces of the reef came directly from the Wertheim sisters, but the museum has also selected a group of local crafters to learn the process and be on hand to teach it to the public. "We've done several workshops with our core folks, and it has been amazing," says Madison. "They will continue to come in on Friday evenings when the museum is open late and activate the space and work with the public."
In addition to acting as a community-connecting art project, a contribution to the museum's multi-faceted textile exhibition and a way to visually understand the environmental impact of damage to coral reefs across the globe, the Crochet Coral Reef is also an educational tool from a scientific and mathematical perspective. "The way that Margaret and Christine have been able to articulate this concept of hyperbolic space and then illustrate it via crochet has been phenomenal," says Madison. "I can tell you that when I installed the pieces onsite, it was very interesting because they come separate. We had couple of templates and a bunch of pictures and we had to figure out how those parts and pieces come together to make this organic-looking object. The way the reef come to life was truly phenomenal. The need for them to understand the nature of their materials and how they work as coral kind of grows, but also how it has to be a very different structure to look like coral is fascinating."
To bring the community-based project full circle, on September 27, after Spun has closed, the Denver Satellite Reef will be "harvested" as part of the museum's Friday night Untitled series, and pieces given away to the public to take home.
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The Crochet Coral Reef installation and the Denver Satellite Reef are part of the DAM's Spun: Adventures in Textiles exhibition, which opens Sunday, May 19 and runs through September 22. Entrance to the show and the chance to join in the building of the reef is included in museum admission. For more information, visit the DAM's website.