Ecology, nomadic living and community participation are central to Mary Mattingly’s collaborative projects. Triple Island, her next collaborative work, will open July 20 on Pier 42 in Lower Manhattan. It follows the Flock House Project (2012), which included a series of spherical living structures that migrated around New York, and the Waterpod (2009), a barge-based ecosystem with five living quarters, a public dome, a farm, animals, water collection and an autonomous power system. Mattingly will participate in MoMA PS 1’s “Expo 1” initiative in collaboration with Triple Canopy this summer, and she received a Knight Foundation Grant for her WetLand project, opening next summer on the Delaware River in Philadelphia.
GREG LINDQUIST How do Triple Island in NYC this summer and WetLand in Philadelphia next summer expand upon or depart from your previous collaborative projects?
MARY MATTINGLY These new projects are scalable, mobile and amphibious with regenerating and interdependent ecosystems. They will be open to the public and will incorporate living space; a greenhouse; regenerative power; compost to renew soil; wheels and floatation; water collection and purification. My goal with this work is to inspire social agency. I’m working towards a post-humanist future based on a community economy when people are all equipped and able to supply some of their basic needs, some of the needs of their neighbors, and participate in interdependent systems of exchange with each other, with the earth, and with non-human entities for the remainder of their living needs.
LINDQUIST You recently did another project about the cycle of an object’s production, distribution, use and obsolescence. What are the politics of this work?
MATTINGLY I’ve been bundling my possessions into these boulder-like forms. Composed of computers, photographs, books and clothing, the sculptures are extremely heavy and cumbersome, which makes moving them arduous and Sisyphean. The photographic documents from this project illuminate the rituals and tragedies embedded in objects in a precarious world. As part of an upcoming Art:21 New York Close Up segment, I recently dragged one of these sculptures across the Bayonne Bridge, which connects Staten Island and New Jersey. This journey was a celebration of the bridge as it is, an obstruction for the global shipping industry, as it stands between ocean channels and the ports of New Jersey. The bridge’s height will soon be raised through a permit just obtained by the Port Authority. The struggle of bringing the sculpture over the bridge was painful. But it was a small pain compared to that felt the world over, from the over-extraction of the earth, to the working conditions of the makers, to the chemicals that enter the air and water affecting all of us. From the oils necessary to make the plastics to rare metals in electronics, these sculptures contained the stuff that starts wars, now and in the future. How can I be complacent with the knowledge embedded in these objects of trauma?
At the Bayonne Bridge we were confronted by different power structures. We were escorted by state police because we were on public property yet doing nothing illegal. We proceeded to the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, where we were stopped by Homeland Security because the sculptural mass we were photographing was suspicious. They logged our driver licenses and passports. Maybe we’re on a do-not-fly-list as a result! Recently, I’ve been writing about the local as no longer a decision of geographic site but a space of political and ethical dimensions. What will demarcate geographic space in the future? Perhaps, one will find it impossible not to work with or around these different agencies that police power structures.
LINDQUIST Are you now imagining a future without mass-produced objects?
MATTINGLY I would like to speculate that future economies will be community-based and no longer revolve around mass production of physical objects. In some parts of the world the object-commodity (from clothing to furniture to vehicles) has colonized social space for centuries. I’m working toward a future when objects, their production, appropriation, distribution and consumption are thoughtfully considered.
LINDQUIST Before this project you invested extensive effort in securing the necessary permits to execute your projects. Are you now refusing to comply with the bureaucratic restrictions common in your previous projects?
MATTINGLY Usually, it takes many months to acquire all necessary permits for public art projects in New York. I make my decision based on the length of the project versus the length of a particular permit process. It’s nonsensical to take months to apply for permits for an hour-long walk across the bridge, with the chance of being denied the permit in the end. In this case I did it without asking permission.