Templeton Lecturer : Margaret Wertheim.
Science Writer and Curator
WE ARE ALL CORALS NOW: A meditation on art, science and collectivity in the age of global warming
When: Monday 18 March, 2013, 6.30 pm.
Where: Eastern Avenue Auditorium, University of Sydney.
Cost: Admission Free. No Bookings. All Welcome.
In an age of climate-change denial, humanity urgently needs positive ways to help us face up to global warming. No ecosystems are more vulnerable than coral reefs, and in these fragile marvels we may find a metaphor for hope. Coral reefs are made up from millions of tiny coral polyps. Each polyp is insignificant on its own, yet when acting collectively these minute sessile creatures collectively produce the spectacle of the Great Barrier Reef, the only organism that can be seen from outer space. In 2005, twin sisters Christine and Margaret Wertheim began to crochet a coral reef in their Los Angeles living room. Inspired by the action of living reefs, the sisters envisioned their project as a collaborative endeavour that would fuse environmentalism, marine science, handicraft and community art practice. Today the Crochet Coral Reef is perhaps the largest art + science endeavour on the planet. More than 25 reefs have been crocheted around the world, including in Chicago, New York, London, Sydney, Melbourne, Latvia, Germany and Ireland. Tens of thousands of people have participated in making local reefs and more than 3 million visitors have seen the resulting exhibitions. The project has been called, “the AIDS quilt of global warming.” Within the framework of the Crochet Coral Reef project, people are invited into a process that mimics nature itself. Through participatory experience, a profound lesson is conveyed: While none of us as individuals can solve the problem of global warming, collectively we have the power to sustain a better and healthier world.
Margaret Wertheim is an internationally noted science writer and exhibition curator whose work focuses on the relations between science and the wider cultural landscape. She is the author of three books on with the cultural history of physics: Pythagoras’ Trousers, a history of the relationship between physics and religion (Times Books/W.W. Norton paperback); The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet (W.W. Norton), and Physics on the Fringe, which explores the phenomenon of “outsider science” (Walker & Co).
Margaret has a B.Sc. in physics (University of Queensland) and a B.A. in mathematics and computer science (University of Sydney). As a journalist, she has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Sciences, New Scientist, The Guardian and many other publications. From 2000-2005 she wrote the “Quark Soup” science column for the LA Weekly, sister paper to the Village Voice, and is a contributing editor for Cabinet, the renowned arts and culture quarterly. Wertheim has contributed essays to scholarly anthologies including Architecture of Fear (Princeton University Press), Prefiguring Cyberspace (MIT Press) and The Quick and the Dead (Walker Arts Center). Her work was included in Best American Science Writing (2003). In 2006 Wertheim won the excellence in journalism award from the American Institute of Biological Sciences and in 2004 she was the US National Science Foundation’s visiting journalist to Antarctica. Her ABC television science series Catalyst (aimed at teenage girls), won prizes around the world. For ten years in Australia, Margaret wrote regular columns about science for women’s magazines, including Vogue Australia and Elle Australia. She may be the only journalist in the world to have held such a position.
Wertheim has lectured widely at universities and colleges across America and abroad - including Harvard, Tufts, Oxford, University of Oslo, University of Sydney, Princeton Theological Seminary, Rutgers, Cornell and Goldsmiths College. She has been a keynote speaker at the International Design Conference Aspen, the “Sacred Space” conference at the Ecclesiastical Academy Tutzing (Germany), the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, South African Science Week, and the Tate Modern. She has curated science discussion series at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum and the Los Angeles Public Library. In 2012 Wertheim served as the first Discovery Fellow at the University of Southern California Libraries. Here, she designed participatory programming that engaged students across campus from the arts, sciences, humanities and engineering faculties. A highlight of the fellowship was a campus-wide project to build a three-dimensional fractal sculpture out of 50,000 business cards. This unique community experiment at the intersection of art + maths was a collaboration with engineer Dr. Jeannine Mosely.
In 2003, Margaret and her twin sister Christine founded the Institute For Figuring, a Los Angeles-based organization devoted to public engagement with the aesthetic and poetic dimensions of science and mathematics. (www.theiff.org) The IFF hosts lectures, curates exhibitions, publishes books and maintains an extensive website. Through the IFF, Margaret and Christine, have designed exhibitions for galleries and museums around the world, including Machine Project (Los Angeles), Art Center College of Design (Pasadena), and the Hayward Gallery (London). The IFF’s “Crochet Coral Reef” project is now perhaps the largest science + art endeavor in the world. It has been shown at the Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh), the Chicago Cultural Center, the Science Gallery (Dublin), the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum (New York), the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (Washington, DC), and elsewhere. Through an unlikely conjunction of art, geometry and handicraft, the Crochet Coral Reef project addresses global warming by engaging people in participatory, hands-on, informal science education. The project has inspired communities throughout the USA, the UK, Australia, Latvia, Ireland, Norway, Croatia, Germany, Denmark, South Africa and the Middle East. In 2009 Margaret spoke about the Crochet Reef project at the TED Conference. For this work Margaret and Christine were granted the 2011 Theo Westenberger Award for Women of Excellence from the Autry National Center, an honor given to a living female artist.