Mary Mattingly

April 2 — May 30, 2009

Artist Mary Mattingly has developed an intriguing creative methodology that integrates photography with aspects of sculpture, installation, and performance. Drawing upon the work of whimsical dreamers and recalling failed utopian projects, yet intermixing Fortune 500 corporate logos with jaw-dropping landscapes, Mattingly's work engages conflict with the systems of technology and consumerism. Rigorous in its research, these multi-form projects begin with the imagination of a possible scenario and evolve as ad hoc solutions to the circumstances of living and sustaining. With Nomadographies Mattingly proposes a world returned to nomadic roots, following a peripatetic population constantly on the move. In as much as the protagonists in Mattingly's photographs are related to pioneers of the American frontier, they are also products of a Cold War-era bunker mentality. This spirit is embodied in the recurring image of Mattingly's "karts." Bicycles piled precariously high with scavenged cardboard boxes and bound with bungee cords, these mobile shelters represent a Sisyphean struggle with the remnants of modern society. Literally crashing out of one of the gallery walls, a Kart seems a relic from another — ambiguous — time.

Mattingly has developed parallel series of images, The Anatomy of Melancholy, which clarify the methodology in the composite tableaux for which she is known. Operating in a documentary mode, these photographs — of abandoned missile silos, a biosphere, Ted Kaczynski's abandoned cabin, and half-submerged derelict boats — might be considered research documents from Mattingly's own frequent travels around the globe. As the representation of a world operating somewhere between obsolescence and post-tech ingenuity, Nomadographies may be considered as a sort of travelogue, projecting forth into the future as it recalls our recent past.

The exhibition at Robert Mann Gallery coincides with the launch of Mary Mattingly's Waterpod™ project. Conceptualized and designed by Mattingly, the Waterpod™ is a floating, sculptural, eco-habitat designed for the rising tides. It will launch in May to navigate the waters of New York Harbor, docking at several Manhattan piers on the Hudson River before continuing onward. As a sustainable, navigable living space, the Waterpod™ serves as a model for new living possibilities, DIY technologies, art and design. Mattingly and other artists will live on the Waterpod™, hosting public events, exhibitions, and lectures.

Nomadographies is Mattingly's second solo exhibition at the gallery. Most recently she was shortlisted for the inaugural Prix Pictet and had a two-person exhibition with Mie Kjaergaard at Standpoint in London. Mattingly is also included in the forthcoming exhibition Trouble in Paradise: Examining Discord Between Nature and Society at the Tucson Museum of Art. In 2008 she was included in group exhibitions at the Palais de Tokyo, the Neuberger Museum, and the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography. Updates on the Waterpod™ Project can be tracked at

April 1, 2009
as told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Artforum's Lauren O'Neill-Butler spoke with Mary Mattingly about The Waterpod and her current exhibition Nomadographies. The full text is reproduced here:

New York-based photographer and sculptor Mary Mattingly has designed The Waterpod™, a floating eco-habitat that recalls the work of Buckminster Fuller, Andrea Zittel, and Constant Nieuwenhuis that will launch this May in the East River. Here she discusses the evolution of the project. Mattingly's second solo exhibition at Robert Mann Gallery in New York, titled "Nomadographies," will open on April 2.

The Waterpod™ is three years in the making. Prior to this project I made wearable homes with three layers, fit for mobile people in different environmental conditions (arctic, desert/tundra, and water). I began to design these as I was traveling often, and as I became increasingly worried that government and corporate agencies were largely ignoring problems caused by pollution and climate change. I wanted to respond to the growing instability of cultures and the political unrest arising from inattention to these issues.

After my first show at Robert Mann in 2006, someone asked me what I was going to do next. I responded that I wanted to create a live/work capsule in the East River, perhaps in the Newtown Creek, since at the time New York City was doing very little to prepare for rising sea levels. The Waterpod project began with preliminary sketches; it was a translucent sphere with two levels. One was a sleep and study area underwater, essentially an aquarium, a quiet and contemplative space. The top level would be for work; it would feature a garden space and would resemble a small autonomous system. An infrastructure of soil connected to a wire framework would keep the pod upright.

It was interesting to learn how to create this kind of system; one that the inhabitants would not necessarily need to leave and that could exist as a mobile space. Finding sustainable solutions for living made me question the design as well as the role of community in the space. I thought about the relationship between individuals and utopian spaces and kept in mind future possibilities. The Waterpod also developed from my series of photographs of abandoned utopian spaces, titled the "Anatomy of Melancholy," and conversations I had with Eve K. Tremblay, a future Waterpod inhabitant, which forced me to consider why most attempts at utopian systems fail. I began to focus on creating a fluid space with spheres for inhabitants that draw together many different communities. I wanted it to be mutable in design, concept, integration, and autonomy.

At first, I designed it as a personal space but as the idea evolved, it became clear that it needed community to be sustainable and to benefit from multiple inputs and interpretations. I became more interested in the benefits that could be gained from a diverse community living on and interacting with the pod. I started to form a group of people who were interested in the project, either from an artistic, infrastructural, or technological point of view. Artist Mira Hunter was one of the first people I approached. Mira was raised on a famous floating house in Vancouver designed by her father. Eventually, we formed a democratic group, a meritocracy, and developed a set of guidelines. Right now there are five people who will be living on The Waterpod. One guideline is that as a resident you don't need to stay on board; but while on board and off, residents are encouraged to catalog their activities, so that we can have a record of what's coming and going. Everyone will have to help out with repairs, gardening, cooking, and composting. Basically everyone will learn how to take care of everything. I think this is really important — as the first industrial and technological age in the developed world is drawing to a close, people need to relearn how to do a lot of things. 

Many elements of the project are currently underway. Derek Hunter and Alison Ward are building a modular superstructure in a warehouse in Long Island City while the barge platform is docked in Bayonne, New Jersey. We're in the process of finalizing insurance before we move to Pier 35 in Manhattan. Once that's ready we'll have a month to build there, and we should launch and move in by the end of May. Even though this is a project that I imagined having a very long lifespan, here in New York it's going to be abbreviated. Due to various environmental guidelines, we need to move the pod every two weeks. We also have to secure a sufficient number of piers to be able to move it and still have a long enough time to live onboard.

Engineering students are building some of the technological elements. Artist Stephanie Dedes is coordinating a barter system with local greenmarkets while Carissa Carman has designed the on-board living system. Carissa is creating a greenhouse and an outdoor garden space, which is based on companion planting. Through open calls, groups and individuals in New York have started to grow specific vegetables on behalf of the project and we'll transplant them onto the barge's garden space in early May. People have been sending us pictures of the vertical gardens in their apartments; it's one of my favorite parts of the project right now.

As with The Waterpod, many of the images in "Nomadographies" are about autonomous mobile systems of living that are low-tech, ad hoc, and adaptable. The Waterpod embodies these ideas and responds to their present uses while "Nomadographies" projects into the future in a performative and metaphorical way. Some of the photographs follow artist (and Waterpod inhabitant) Veronica Flores and me as we travel through Mexico toward Mexicaltitan, using bicycles piled high with boxes to carry our belongings. This journey forced me to reconsider notions of ownership, harsh climate conditions, scarcity of clean water, and conflicts between the state and warring cartels. While "Nomadographies" embodies future histories, the "Anatomy of Melancholy" revisits the past, and The Waterpod enters the present, blending fiction and autobiography with different ideologies.

The New Yorker
May 4, 2009
Vince Aletti

Mattingly's color photographs are sci-fi fantasies of future in which nomadic figures in tentlike robes or protective jumpsuits wander through a brave new depopulated world. In several pictures, these faceless figures (survivors? explorers? lone visionaries?) look out over untouched vistas - a snowy mountain range, a receding glacier, a choppy sea. But there's something elegiac about the landscapes, as if they're all that's left of an environment and a civilization that have been reduce to the contents of the towering cardboard boxes that some of the nomads (and a life-size sculpture in the gallery) trundle around on their bicycles. Where do we go from here? Mattingly proposes the Waterpod, and eco-habitat arriving soon at a Manhattan pier.

The New York Times
May 22, 2009
Karen Rosenberg

Mary Mattingly's sculptures and digitally enhanced photographs give us a frightening but not totally apocalyptic picture of the world after civilization. Humans are still in the picture, but have become roaming scavengers. These ideas aren't hers alone — see James Howard Kunstler's novel "World Made by Hand" and countless doomsday blogs — but she visualizes them in compelling ways.

In her series of photographs "Nomadographies," figures carry makeshift shelters through arid and flooded landscapes. These images are cloying and chilling; their warnings of environmental and social degradation are undercut by a Romanticism straight out of Caspar David Friedrich's "Wanderer Above the Mists." They aren't great art, but they are certainly food for thought.

In a related sculpture, "Everything you own (including the shirt off my back)," an unwieldy cluster of cardboard boxes trails from the back of a bicycling nomad. This particular vision of the future comes too close to present-day economic realities.

Also at the gallery are five bound volumes of Ms. Mattingly's research and development, reinforcing her open-source approach. There are articles on Buckminster Fuller, Greenpeace and the photographer Edward Burtynsky, as well as e-mail messages documenting Ms. Mattingly's own peripatetic lifestyle.

Three of the volumes detail Ms. Mattingly's most ambitious project to date: "Waterpod," a floating, sustainable live-and-work space that will make its debut at the South Street Seaport next month. Residents will maintain a vegetable garden and barter with local greenmarkets as the pod docks at various points along the East and Hudson Rivers. It should add a communal, utopian element to Ms. Mattingly's otherwise bleak projections.