REVIEW: Mary Mattingly- Stamps Speaker Series

The room was solemn when I first walked in, the lights turned low and the entire auditorium awash in a deep green glow.  After a brief introduction, Mary Mattingly took to the podium.  With a silent video of a burning boat playing on the screen behind her, Mattingly opened the night’s lecture with reflections on img_3145the election, which had only been decided in the wee hours of that very morning.  Instead of directly addressing the results, she chose to highlight the slew of emotions many were feeling that night by delivering a poem, an amalgamation of the various responses she had seen across social media, interspersed with her own reflections.

Mary Mattingly started out her presentation by giving a brief overview of her artistic journey.  With a formal training in photography, she now uses it in three different ways to interact with her work; as a proposal and reimagining of existing locations, as a documentation of the sculptural work that she does, and as an element within the sculptures themselves.   Her current work is focused on several ideas, such as reimagining and making a statement on public food, transforming industrial equipment into sculptural ecosystems and exploring our relationships with objects.

She then began to take us through some of her more recent projects.  “Wading Bridge,” in Des Moines, IA is an invitation for locals to directly interact with the Raccoon River, which is considered both polluted and dangerously swift. The piece was commissioned to inspire thoughts and discussion about water quality in the area.

Another one of her current projects involved the construction of a park in New York City.  The following clip shows some of the process, as well as the final product of this project.

One of her current projects in New York City is a “floating food forest” called Swale, located on a large floating platform.  She says the work was created in part because it is illegal to pick food from public land, whereas there are no such rules about picking food on water. The food grown on Swale is made of mostly perennial plants that were donated by the park service.  If you are interested in learning more about the project, please check out the official website, .

She then dove into discussing her influences as an artist. She says she has always been attracted to dealing with basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter.  The area in which she grew up did not have potable ground water, which lead to her “obsession” with water.  She then began to think about the way that humans will have to survive the aftermath of climate change, particularly in terms of human migration. This eventually led to her work on the Waterpod Project, as shown in the video below.

The original idea for the Waterpod Project had been to create a space that supports growing food and would also be a sustainable living environment. One of the most difficult parts of the project was simply obtaining the permits necessary to legally begin work.  Over the course of a year and a half she and her team had to collect 18 different permits, one of them being an approval to photograph chickens by the actors guild. The project was launched in 2009, and visited a grand total of 5 piers.  She and several of her friends lived on it for 5 months, after which she claims to have realized why most artists stick to working on land.

pullOne of the more interesting projects she worked on was a documentation of every object she owned at the time at .  It was an intentionally absurd project to document her shame at her own consumption.   To further drive the message home, she bundled up all of her belongings and dragged them across New York, purposefully making useful objects nothing more than a useless burden.  In turn, this project has given her a substantial amount of respect for the true value of each object.

This lead directly into her work at the University of Michigan and her newly opened exhibit, Object’s Unveiled: Boxing, Rolling, Stretching and Cutting. For this exhibit she wanted to learn more

about the background behind these objects that we study. In particular, she became drawn to cobalt, which is not only use to produce beautiful blue pigments, but is also used in defense technology and green energy. The state of Michigan has ties to cobalt as we house one of the country’s few cobalt mines. She ended the lecture on this note, ending a few minutes early due to the events of the prior day.

After the lecture was over I made the quick walk over to the Institute for the Humanities with many of the other audience members to enjoy a reception for Mattingly’s exhibit opening there that night. While a somber air still permeated the room, it was clear everyone was impressed by the exhibition. I had a chance to chat with Mattingly briefly, and got her permission to take photos of the exhibit to display on this blog.  The following were some of my favorite pieces.

If you missed the talk, but are still intrigued by Mattingly’s work, I encourage you to check out her exhibit at the Institute of Humanities Gallery, located in the South Thayer Building.  The exhibit will be up until December 15th, so head on over and experience Objects Unveiled yourself.

PREVIEW: Detroitography talk + exhibit

What is Detroitography?

It is a combination of the city of Detroit & cartography/geography–an organization that curates a collection of maps focused on Detroit and its extensive history.

This exhibition of traveling maps will set down at the South Thayer Building, starting with a talk by founder Alex Hill.

Here you can get a preview of the types of wonderful maps you’ll be able to see.

When: November 1st at 12:30

(The Detroitography exhibition runs Nov 1 – Dec 15)

Where: 202 S. Thayer Building 

Price: FREE!


PREVIEW: Ecstasy and Fantasy

Ecstasy and Fantasy

On Friday, February 15th, the School of Music, UM Chamber Choir,  and UMMA collaborate to create an evening of sounds inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Faculty from the school will perform a selection from Iriving Fine’s “Alice in Wonderland” as well as several other composers from the same era as well as a contemporary, visiting composer. The music will be performed alongside Florencia Pita’s “Alice” inspired artwork. The dual representation of imagination, fantasy, mystery, and magic will surely create a dynamic and intriguing performance. 7 pm at the UMMA.

REVIEW: Florencia Pita

Florencia Pita

If you’ve passed by the UMMA in the past month, you’ve probably noticed an incredibly curious landscape looking out at you from the windowed, first floor  gallery. Bright reds, spinning blues, swirling shapes and swirling constructions fill the space, drawing the eye in, maintaing mysterious and fantasy  no matter how long the viewer looks. Florencia Pita’s designs are all about organic exaggerations and whimsical, barely  recognizable figures. The Argentine-born artist is trained as an architect but works with furniture, jewelry, graphic design, sculpture, and more. Many of her foliage-like  configurations are inspired by the feminine form. Yet these representations are complex: both her  large scale architecture installations  and her minute scrupulous  jewelry designs often represen the same, flowery  forms. In this way, her work confounds scales and draws the viewer in infinitely.

In an interview with UMMA Academic Coordinator  David Choberka, I learned more about Florencia Pita’s inspirations and styles:

“She makes these cool, whimsical, conceptual, digital designs that are really interesting because of how she plays with scale—her flowery, colorful treelike structures could be anything from buildings to vases, furniture, jewelry or tableware. She makes these large-scale wall hanging appliqués based on children’s stories—one is inspired by Alice in Wonderland. The exhibition features a couple of her installation pieces, as well as models and digital representations of her work. She is developed an original piece for this exhibition, which is exciting. She has won a ton of awards and been featured in exhibitions all over the world. Her work really blurs the boundaries between visual art, architecture, and design, and is definitely worth checking out.”

Click here for more about Florencia Pita and her studio FP/Mod. To read about the exhibit, look at UMMA’s website. The exhibit is open during museum hours until the middle of June.

REVIEW: Research on the City


The Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning hosted a month long installation featuring a Faculty Research pilot project called “Research on the City.” Exhibited in the school’s off-campus studio space, Liberty Lofts, the gallery was composed of work done by faculty from a range of disciplines with a focus on the city of Detroit. The space was divided into five sections, each devoted to the large scale expositions by one of the following titles: A Dozen Playgrounds, Atlas of Love and Hate: Detroit Geographies, Geographies of Trash, Imaging Detroit, and Re:Tool-kit for Detroit. The majority of the work was digital, either model diagrams or audio/video soundbites. It was also interactive, however, with the possibility of climbing onto the pieces to get a better look. Though the display was artistic, it was very architectural. After having worked in an architecture studio this summer, I recognized the aesthetic as very niche. It was almost inaccessible to the average eye, even though faculty influences came from the School of Education, School of Natural Resources and Environment, School of Art and Design, Department of French, and the School of Information.

Something far more inviting to the non-architect passer-by was arranged on a table in the middle of the room: an extensive library of books about Detroit. The collection included both published works as well as bound student publications . I enjoyed skimming through past student archives and seeing what peers had produced in past years related to this currently hot topic. One of my favorite books was called Detroit: Then and Now. It featured side-by-side stills of famous sites in Detroit, one in the early part of the century and one in the present day. The difference was shocking. I flipped page after page until I realized I had read the whole book and the gallery was closing.

Speaking of, the entire exhibit finishes this Sunday December 16th, so check it out this weekend! Liberty Research Annex, 305 W. Liberty Street, Friday- Sunday 2pm-7pm.

REVIEW: Research Through Making

This summer I am going to China with The Taubman College of Architecture. I will be living and working at B.A.S.E., an architecture studio in Caochangdi, the artists district of Beijing. I have never been the the Eastern hemisphere, do not speak Mandarin, and have absolutely no conception of what I will be doing there aside from the fact that I know that I am going. So the first thing I did to prepare was go to the exhibit “Research Through Making.”

The architecture program is in its third year. It acts as a seed funding resource for faculty projects which combine both research and creativity in unusual ways. The idea that design and research are opposites is intended to be debunked by this fabulous exposition of “applied art.” The scope of the gallery is expansive such that each installation stands on a spacious scale. It gives you plenty to explore.

The installation is being held in the Liberty Research Annex (305 W. Liberty St). The exhibit has been open since the premier celebration on January 20, 2012 where the pioneers of each work celebrated the showing of their accomplishment. The closing will be on April 7th, 2012. The gallery s open on Fridays and Saturdays from 2pm-7pm.

The five installations  on display include:

  • Glass Cast by Cate Newell and Wes McGee
  • Ruralopolitan Maneuvers/HOUSE 50 by Mary-Ann Ray and Robert Mangurian
  • Dirty Work by Neal Robinson
  • Morphfaux…recovering plaster as architectural substrate by Steven Mankouche, Josh Bard, and Matthew Schulte
  • Resonant Chamberr by Geoff Thün, Kathy Velikoy and Wes McGee

(The photos below are ordered accordingly)

Before she left for a semester in Chile, my friend Deena Etter and I went to the gallery to explore the space. Deena was a part of the program last May and June when her project piloted in the small village of The Pearl River Valley region. She took verbal and photographic inventory of all the personal possessions of one family’s home, then created a book to encapsulate her findings. Below is is a picture of her seeing her work on display for the first time. Isn’t she cute. I will have the great fortune of continuing her work in China under professors Mary-Ann Ray and Robert Mangurian. Should be a great summer! And what a beautiful appetizer of an exhibit to get me excited for it.