Mary Mattingly: Because for now we still have poetry

April 19 - June 9, 2018
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 19, 6-8pm
Press ReleasE I Images

In her latest exhibition and fourth solo show at Robert Mann Gallery, Because for Now We Still Have Poetry, multimedia artist Mary Mattingly assembles stories that strive to transform people’s perceptions and reframe predominant ideologies by casting a spotlight on the lands that carry the scars of extraction from mining and chemical cultivation. Mattingly’s photographs give a look into systems of mining that support exploitive supply chains, in which the cogs in the machine work independently from one another without realizing the full potential of their destruction. Yet, they also capture the awe of how well oiled and expansive these so called “supply chains” are when put together.

Mattingly starts at the beginning of the “supply chain” with the minerals themselves. She isolates the strategic minerals necessary for national defense and military operations or those used for cultivating land. For example, Mosaic mines in Florida that harvest phosphate, and Eagle Mine in Michigan that harvests cobalt, use those minerals for fertilizer. These same minerals are also essential to the production of photography. In this, Mattingly sees absurdity because the same economic machines that drive mining, the artist relies on herself to expose the causes of these defeated landscapes. It is a poetic contradiction to work with materials that are both seductive, yet linked to these contemporary forms of violence.

Through still lives, Mattingly pieces together the never-ending map of logistics, harvesting, transportation, manufacturing parts, money and the needs that make up the supply chain of strategic minerals as a way to comprehend nature morte that has been always been traditionally captured through painting, photography, zoological and botanical illustration. Because even though it may seem that we can’t go on...we must go on, because for now, we do still have hope.

This intense study into the methods of cultivation have also been the main focus of Mattingly’s most recent public project and “social sculpture,” Swale, a floating forest on the Bronx River that has one main purpose: to engage New Yorkers in a conversation about the benefits of shared, public food by offering crops to pick and eat. Mary Mattingly will participate in Storm King’s upcoming exhibition, “Indicators: Artists on Climate Change,” which opens May 19, where she is preparing an as-yet-untitled work in which she will bring trees from a tropical climate — mango, coconut and fig are in contention — to the Hudson River Valley, calling attention to the way that changing temperatures may affect the future of food.

Mattingly participated in MoMA PS1's "Expo 1" in collaboration with Triple Canopy Magazine in 2013, received a Knight Foundation Grant for her WetLand project that opened in 2014 on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, and in 2015, she completed a two-part sculpture “Pull” for the International Havana Biennial with the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de la Habana and the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Her first Art 21: New York Close Up documentary video was released in 2013. Mattingly’s work has been exhibited at the International Center of Photography, the Seoul Art Center, the Brooklyn Museum, the New York Public Library, deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, and the Palais de Tokyo. Her writings were included in Nature, edited by Jeffrey Kastner in the Whitechapel Documents of Contemporary Art series.


Images left to right:

Eagle Mine Above, 2016
Germanium, 2018
On Being Blue, 2018


New York Times

What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week
BY Jillian Steinhauer

Mary Mattingly’s new collage photographs are disorienting. One, titled “Endgame” (2017), centers on a picture of two cranes standing in marshy waters. As the birds dip their beaks, the slope of their necks directs the viewer’s gaze downward, to a table in front of the picture, on which sit three objects: what looks like an oblong chunk of black rock, a pile of rocks tied together with string and shards of pottery similarly bound. Just below the tabletop, where there should be a wall, there is instead a rectangle of bare trees. It interrupts the illusionistic space and compounds a looming question: How do all the elements here conceptually connect?

For her exhibition at Robert Mann Gallery, “Because for Now We Still Have Poetry,” Ms. Mattingly researched the supply chains of minerals involved in photography: cobalt, phosphate, germanium and more. She discovered a system of mining and extraction whose complexity and scale are barely graspable. Her still lifes reflect this: They’re puzzles whose pieces we recognize, but whose compositions are dictated by a logic we don’t understand.

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Mattingly makes the case that poetry is precisely what’s missing from mainstream responses to anthropogenic climate change.

The title of Mary Mattingly’s fourth solo exhibition at Robert Mann gallery, Because For Now We Still Have Poetry, has, like the artwork in the show, more than a touch of poetry. The title’s “for now” pointedly conveys the show’s twin strains of ecological optimism and pessimism, but its invocation of “poetry” is more mysterious. Among the world’s resources imperiled by climate change, poetry would seem to rank far down the list for most people. Yet Mattingly’s work makes the case that our capacity for poetry, writ large — what the ancient Greeks called poiesis, or imaginative creation — is precisely what’s missing from mainstream aesthetic, political, and cultural responses to anthropogenic climate change.

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