Mary Mattingly
House and Universe

September 6 — October 19, 2013


In her latest exhibition House and Universe, multimedia artist Mary Mattingly weaves together lush digital photography with experimental design to tackle real-world environmental issues in ways that are both radical and pragmatic. Mattingly imagines a world of imminent vicissitude, in which humanity must become reliant on a collective ingenuity in order to survive floods, war, and the inevitable decay of the urban habitat. Yet in the vein of other conceptual utilitarians like Andrea Zittel and Anish Kapoor, she proposes solutions that marry carefully-researched, sustainable functionality with succinctly elegant and elegiac forms. Her photographs reconcile apparent contradictions: both sumptuous and austere, they are at once warnings of material excess and celebrations of its adaptability.

Mattingly's attitude towards modern consumption is most obvious in pieces like Life of Objects, which precedes the otherwise fantastical narrative to metaphorically establish the current state of the world through the artist's eyes. Yet while the image initially reads as straightforward critique—an exposed and vulnerable body, crushed by the weight of the things it carries—its subtleties suggest something different: cradled in the curve of the spine, these "things" are also our blanket and thus our protection. Subsequent works like Floating a Boulder and Flock explicate the ways that wayside objects can transform into clothing, transportation, or shelter in a post-apocalyptic world.

Imaginative reinvention of objects forms the backbone of Mattingly's most recent public project, Triple Island, which opened July 20th on Pier 42 in Lower Manhattan and continues through November 2013. Like its predecessors, the 2012 Flock House Project and 2009's Waterpod™, Triple Island proposes adaptable living spaces for an increasingly unstable environment. Inhabited by Mattingly and other volunteers from the artistic community, all three constructions have utilized gray water, solar power, and other low-impact systems to sustain habitable conditions in urban spaces like piers, parking lots, and city squares. By digitally collaging photographs of Triple Island and the Flock Houses with new environments, Mattingly begins to blur the boundary between documentation and fiction. The tangible realizations of her illusory visions—and their subsequent re-capture and alteration as simulacra through the photographic lens—create temporally ambiguous images that exist both as fantasies of the future and records of our burgeoning present.

Mattingly recently participated in MoMA PS1's "Expo 1" in collaboration with Triple Canopy Magazine, received a Knight Foundation Grant for her WetLand project that opens next summer on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, and represented smARTpower in the Philippines, in conjunction with the Bronx Museum and the US State Department. Her first Art 21: New York Close Up documentary video was released in July 2013. Mattingly's work has been exhibited at the International Center of Photography, Seoul Art Center, The New York Public Library, the Palais de Tokyo, Tucson Museum of Art, and the deCordova Museum. Her work has been featured in Aperture Magazine, Art in America, Artforum, Sculpture Magazine, China Business News, The New York Times, New York Magazine, Financial Times, Le Monde Magazine, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The Brooklyn Rail, The Village Voice, and on BBC News, MSNBC, Fox News, News 12, NPR, WNBC, New York 1, and Art21. Her writings were included in Nature, edited by Jeffrey Kastner in the Whitechapel Documents of Contemporary Art series. This is her third solo exhibition with the gallery.

Interview Magazine
September 2014
Noor Brara

Mary Mattingly is one of the most self-aware people you'll ever meet. Her work, which consists largely of sculptures and installations created from mass-produced objects she's collected over the years, speaks not only to her creative ability as an artist, but also to her deep sensitivity to the world around her. "My goal is to create these structures of bundled objects so that I'm really faced with everything I rely on and consume," she says. "And it's a lot." Mattingly photographs her sculptures in natural habitats, uniting our world of "things" to that of their organic beginnings. In the spirit of a kind of homecoming, Mattingly hopes to get people thinking about what we're taking from the earth, and how we can use what we already have to our best advantage. Her work presents our possessions through a restrictive lens, showing just how much we'd have to carry if we bundled our objects to our own backs.

Read the full interview here. 

The New Yorker
September 24, 2013
Vince Aletti

In a show of color photographs that touch on consumerism, waste, and the environment, people turn up only here and there, and they're always overwhelmed or absorbed by their bundled-up belongings. Mattingly is seen pulling a huge ball of her own lashed-together stuff (clothes, books, headphones, shampoo) down the sidewalk; two similarly dense accumulations of household goods, held together by twine, occupy the gallery floor. In photographs, other bundles have turned into ad-hoc shelters, gigantic backpacks, or boulder-like masses that look like Christo's rope-bound sculptures. In Mattingly's world, we're all refugees dragging our overstuffed lives around. Through Oct. 19.

The New York Times
September 12, 2013
Martha Schwendener

After exhibiting eco-science-fiction photographs early in her career, Mary Mattingly started experimenting with real-life situations, living on her "Waterpod" project, drifting around New York Harbor in 2009 and more recently in various self-sufficient "Flock Houses." Here, she returns to photography and works that are scruffier than her earlier ones, but more personal and poignant. They're often funny, too — although the underlying message, as with most things eco, is apocalyptic.

For the exhibition, Ms. Mattingly bound up virtually all her possessions, creating what she calls "man-made boulders," which resemble postminimalist sculptures. One photograph finds her pulling a boulder down a city street, while another, "Ruin in Reverse" (2013), is reminiscent of photographs of Ana Mendieta, the Cuban-American performance artist — except here a gravelike trench is filled with a bundle of castoff objects rather than a woman's body.

Art history allusions abound, since Ms. Mattingly's possessions include, unsurprisingly, lots of art books and ephemera. A copy of "Janson's History of Art" can be spotted in "Ruin in Reverse." Another photo fills Michael Heizer's earthwork "Double Negative" (1969-70) in Nevada with a bright blue-green "boulder," also reminiscent of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's wrapped objects.

Photography's recent history is also invoked. Where digital manipulation was embraced in the '80s and then eschewed in the aughts, Ms. Mattingly chooses a third path: her clumsy and obvious Photoshopping looks like an environmental disaster someone was either too arrogant or lazy (or incompetent) to clean up — which works perfectly in this context.

Artsy Editorial
September 6, 2013

Imagine a personal flying machine, equipped with jetpacks, that could collect dew from clouds to supply fresh drinking water to the traveler; or a futuristic, water-based floating city designed to mutate with the tides and serve, at once, as transportation, island, and residence—Mary Mattingly did. At the turn of the millennium, after three consecutive catastrophic floods prompted privatization of water resources, the Brooklyn-based sculptor and photographer took note and started drafting. As so began Mattingly's mission to create imaginative-yet-practical solutions for imminent world change—none, as of yet, which have proven too quixotic to be realized. Mattingly's latest venture, Triple Island, is a scalable, amphibious ecosystem parked at Lower Manhattan's Pier 42, providing regenerative shelter, power, food, and water to a future New York. On the occasion of her public project and a new exhibition of photographs at Robert Mann Gallery, we spoke with Mattingly on nomadic homes (her "Flock Houses"), the post-humanist future, and the issues she carries with her—just like her wearable home—wherever she goes.

September 5, 2013
Jonathan Beer & Lily Koto Olive

Art-Rated: At a glance your work seems very rooted in the creation of objects and projects aimed at artistically raising awareness (and providing solutions) to issues like sustainable living, overconsumption, mass production and environmentally unaware design. In addition to all that, your practice includes more imaginative and expressive works, usually photomontages that transplant your sculptures into remixed versions of the future. Can you speak to those two areas of your work? Did they develop in tandem or did one lead to the other?

Mary Mattingly: For the past eight years I've been making forms of tools and housing. I make photographs simultaneously that document these tools. Like the photographs, these sculptures are made through collaging materials together. Some aren't functional but allude to different systems of living. Others describe and take part in networked, decentralized ecologies for communal life. I experiment living in and with them, and believe that people really have to experience and live them to understand how they can exist in reality, fictionally, and the places between. Through this process I document these things and their use. I ask, how can we provide for basic needs for every human and non-human? At times, the documents are as abstract as the tools, and propose dystopic futures with ways to work within. They propose and allow for new solutions to develop, but don't solve problems.

Read the full interview here.

Brooklyn Rail
September 4, 2013
Greg Lindquist

I made the journey to Double Negative with the artist Mary Mattingly in a 113-degree heat wave between the third and fourth of July. The fact that our trip coincided with Independence Day underscored a certain Americanness in the work's grand scale and location. We attempted (and failed) to camp at the base of its northern swath. Like my 2011 visit to Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty in a frigid Utah winter, the unpredictable and circumscribing site-specific weather played a large role in the experience of the work. Approximately an hour and a half northeast of Las Vegas, Double Negative is situated in the crumbling capillary ridges that descend from the east side of Mormon Mesa, which was once the bottom of a prehistoric ocean. With a four-wheel drive Jeep, we made our approach through a segment of steep, winding dirt roads, crested the mesa and were guided with ease to the site by a map application on my smartphone.

Read the full article here. 

Art In America
September 2013
The Lookout

The digital photo-collages in Mary Mattingly's exhibition "House and Universe" are 2-D representations of the collaborative projects she's worked on for the past few years. Mattingly's Triple Island, a self-sustaining ecosystem installed on a Brooklyn pier through November, and the Flock Houses, portable and adaptable homes, both factor into these recent images, which depict wrapped bundles of material possessions (resting among similarly scaled boulders, or being dragged down a city street) and people inhabiting dome-shaped structures floating in industrial waterways. The frequency of floods, hurricanes, droughts and other natural disasters over the past decade make Mattingly's solutions seem not all that far-fetched.