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 the 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, http://www.swaleny.org/ .
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.
One of the more interesting projects she worked on was a documentation of every object she owned at the time at own-it.us . 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.