The crocheted coral reef now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History is an intriguing mix of art, geometry and natural science. It’s the type of project we at Popular Kinetics love because it touches on so many aspects of the visual and scientific world. Mathematicians discovered hyperbolic geometry in the early 19th century—a geometry set on a curved surface as opposed to Euclid’s geometry set on a flat plane. Nature employs hyperbolic forms to expand surface area in plants, such as in the crinkles of lettuces and ruffles of sea kelp, but scientists had no idea how to build a physical model of the formulas until mathematician Daina Taimina realized that crochet can replicate the same forms.
The idea was picked up by the Wertheim sisters, Margaret and Christina, who grew up close to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. While crocheting hyperbolic forms, they noted how their models resembled the corals and sea creatures of the reef, and thus the project was born. The crocheted reef at the Smithsonian is made from a mix of materials, including recycled plastics, beads and cassette tapes, addressing the problem of trash in our oceans. A portion of the reef is white, representing a dead reef.
The exhibit is up until April 24th, so hurry to Washington for a look, or visit the Smithsonian web site for a video about the making of the crocheted reef.
To all of you pop-up and paper engineering enthusiasts out there, start planning your trip to Washington, D.C., this year to see the exhibition “Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn.” It’s a little gem of a show nestled in the Smithsonian Libraries Exhibition Gallery on the lower level of the National Museum of American History. (If you enter the museum on the mall side, take the escalator downstairs.) The exhibit traces the history of the paper-engineered book, from its origins in scientific astronomy texts through current pop-up volumes of fantastic complexity. Some of the books you may have in your own pop-up collection, while others are truly rare and stunningly beautiful. Curated by Stephen Van Dyk of New York’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum library, the show emphasizes the mechanical aspects of pop-up constructions, with great signage and an engaging video of illustrator Chuck Fischer and paper engineer Bruce Foster at work. Plus there’s a wonderful little catalogue of the show available for free at the entrance.
The show runs through October, 2011, so there’s plenty of time to plan your visit. But don’t put it off too long. You’ll probably want to see it more than once!
It’s a small but wonderful exhibit on display at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art: a show of lists created by authors, artists, and art personalities. The lists are quite varied. There’s one of Joseph Cornell’s purchases at an antiques fair, with notes about what he later did with the objects. There’s a visual packing list and a list by author H. L. Mencken of his personal beliefs and general thoughts. And there’s one by architect Eero Saarinen outlining the jobs he needed to do over the course of a day. Some are written, some are typed, some are collaged together, and all give a bit of insight into their creators’ personalities. The show, with the full title Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts and Other Artists’ Enumerations will be on exhibit until September 27th, 2010.
And while you’re there, check out the Portrait Gallery show One Life, Echoes of Elvis just down the hall. It’s a quirky look at The King by artists working in a wide range of media.