Margaret Wertheim and her twin, Christine, began creating a coral reef out of yarn and plastic thread in the living room of their Los Angeles home nine years ago.
The sisters started the project in 2005 as a sculptural simulation that would draw attention to the loss of coral reefs around the world.
On Wednesday night, Ms Wertheim was at NYU Abu Dhabi to present her exhibition, Crochet Coral Reef, a project by the Institute for Figuring, an LA-based organisation dedicated to the aesthetic and poetic aspects of science and mathematics.
The project, on display at the conference centre on the Saadiyat Island campus until December, showcases crocheted representations of coral reefs done by the twins and anyone else who wishes to participate. During the tour, the duo ask people to take part in the creation of their own reef.
“My sister likes to remind me that we said it in the conditional sense, ‘we could crochet a coral reef’, and in fact we are crocheting a coral reef,” Ms Wertheim said.
The project has been on tour since 2005, with more than 8,000 people from 35 countries participating. Exhibitions are held in art galleries, universities and science museums.
Ms Wertheim said that one of the curious aspects of the project was how it began to resemble a living coral reef not only on an aesthetic level, but a biological one.
“Just as life on Earth started from very simple single-cell organisms, which evolved and gave you peacocks and elephants and redwoods, so too has the crocheted coral ecology gone through an evolutionary process.”
Growing up in Australia, Ms Wertheim, who is in her 50s, was quite familiar with the Great Barrier Reef, the only living organism visible from space, and knew that it was disappearing.
“The reason we are doing the project is to bring attention to the fact that coral reefs all around the world are dying out,” she said.
Disappearing coral reefs is a subject John Burt, an associate professor of biology at NYU Abu Dhabi, is passionate about.
“We have a projection of loss in the future,” said Dr Burt, who studies coral reefs in the Arabian Gulf. “Most people are looking at loss in the 2030s. So comfortably in my children’s lifetime, probably in my lifetime, we have the possibility that reefs as we currently know them will cease to exist.
“Exhibits like what we have outside serve as valuable vehicles for talking about the issues on a global scale, but I think it’s important to see some of the things we can do as a community to encourage the conservation of these valuable ecosystems.”
The exhibition includes a display of several collections of crocheted coral reefs made from yarn, plastic and other unorthodox materials.
Some pieces are exhibited as standalone works by a single artist, while others comprise works by people of different nationalities who have worked on the project the past nine years.