Imagine my bewilderment when I unwrapped E.’s Christmas present: sitting in its box, heavy and inert, it looked a bit like ceramic cauliflower. Well, turns out that when lit, it takes on shades of pink and orange and gives the most amazing, warm light, painting a pattern of dots on the wall behind it.
Coral Tea-Light: Flowers, by Lilach Lotan Pottery.
Watching the object transform from bland cauliflower into beautiful coral, I was reminded of Ovid’s mythical account of the birth of coral, which endows the marine organism with metamorphic qualities: according to a passage from Book IV of the Metamorphoses, Perseus created coral by placing Medusa’s severed head on a bed of seaweed at the water’s edge to wash her blood from his hands; as soon as the blood of the Gorgon, whose gaze had turned all who had laid eyes on her to stone, touched the plants, they themselves hardened to red stone. Delighted with the effect, the sea-nymphs soaked more twigs in the blood, creating more corals to scatter across the ocean. They remained soft as long as they were covered by water; extracted from it, they immediately stiffened in the air.
Coral polyps are translucent animals forming reefs, which get their vibrant hues from the billions of colourful zooxanthellae algae they host. When stressed by temperature change or pollution, corals evict their boarders, causing coral bleaching that can kill the colony if the stress is not mitigated.