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.
AR: What inspired you to begin this journey into designing and implementing these structures and ways of life?
MM: The increasing privatization of once-public resources, mainly water. I began making and implementing structures and tools upon learning of Bechtel’s privatization of water in Bolivia in the year 2000. Extending this proposal to the rest of the world in the not-so-distant future, I started designing simple water collection and purification devices for systems without centralized control. I would take them to the desert and use them. From there, I began constructing Wearable Homes. These involved functional aspects such as protection and aesthetic considerations such as narrative: a predictive outcome of a neoliberal globalization, one that has monopolized ownership of useable land, proliferated and downsized technologies until your home only existed on your back and you have a more intimate relationship with it than a fellow human.
AR: You once said “photography allows for the narrative to spread.” In your case, why do you believe this to be true – and how does this augment achieving your goals as an artist? The photomontages give access to another corridor that I think is necessary for your goals – one of imagination. For others to imagine a future of sustainability we must be able to see it. Are these images meant to be a touchstone for revealing a different view of the world?
MM: With the correct conditions, a work of art can be as expansive and reaching as a fable passed on from generation to generation. Disseminated, photography is a form of an international language to communicate through. It allows me to challenge my perception of reality, through the record and its abstraction.
AR: In Fill/Obstruct (2013) you wrap up every possession you own into a giant boulder-like form – something you’ve been doing for a while. In your recent project with Art21, New York Close Up, you dragged one of these across the Bayonne Bridge connecting Staten Island and New Jersey. Those gestures negate their iconic status and personal importance, a very evocative combination of art and activism. In your opinion how does art affect activism and vice versa?
MM: Everything in this world is a commodity. I see art in general as simultaneously a form of activism and of commodity. Fill/Obstruct describes the leftovers in an economy of exploitation: from design to production, from marketing to distribution, to consumption and finally waste. A requiem for useless objects that continue to transform, these are instances in a larger story about how people live in an interdependent world We are carrying around the objects that were once made in abundance. Like time capsules, they function as obstructions and proposals for future conditions. They block, interfere, and frame an encounter. They dislodge history. In this world people, all move time capsule bundles around, they are a form of home.
AR: How does the experience of bundling your private possessions and displaying them publicly make you feel? Have any unexpected feelings come about through the process of sorting and recovering your personal objects?
MM: I have been eager to explore public life in different forms. At first I saw this as the future, in a time when everything we do will be recorded and accounted for somewhere. This project specifically is a reflection of how public all of our lives have become in the virtual sphere. The only difference being which public has access to what data about us.
AR: According to the statement about your upcoming show, your website (OWN-IT.US) has “a web-based search tool that organizes all of her possessions into categorical searches and maps their formation, distribution, and current deployment.”At some point even the best ideas become mass produced. If given the opportunity to mass produce your Waterpod or Flock House projects, would you? Or instead would you release designs and instructions so that others can build Flock Houses and upcycled possessions and short circuit a culture of mass production?
MM: I would have released designs.
These projects are meant for a particular set of conditions allowed by a place. The local climate, available supplies, and building code all dictate the form. With Flock House I’m getting to the building code of different cities to discern how to build temporary structures that meet code and the laws that apply to where they can be deployed.
AR Your projects have taken you to other parts of the globe, which seem to be about both research and execution. How did those experiences within other cultures impact your practice?
MM: Every exchange impacts me as a person and therefore artist in some way. Recently, I was in Manila working with the Bronx Museum on smARTpower, a cultural diplomacy program. In the two months I was there, I was able to gain a cursory understanding of economic, political, and climatic challenges. I also learned about the symbiotic nature of architecture and the weather, how paving over wetlands worsens the effects of storms, for instance. The slippage of architectural style physically connects to their histories of successive colonization. Specifically related to this project, I’m able to better understand the global pathways of the human-made world, from shipping and trafficking to production and use. Most of all though, I look to meet artists from other places and learn about their concerns and struggles. Good artists have the ability to see the world from a vantage point of the macro. This is the most invaluable experience.
AR:In your House and Universe series, you bury, float, bag and suspend personal possessions. How did you choose which possessions to include in the projects? How long were these objects in your life prior to being used in the pieces?
MM: To paraphrase new materialist theorist Joshua Simon, you cannot possess without being possessed. Everything is a commodity, from homes and objects to land, water, garbage, and debt. Some of the objects in “House and Universe” I’ve had since I was a child. I wanted to turn these useful objects into something very useless, and am working towards everything in my life being bundled into these forms except for a bag of things that I can carry.
AR: You are making a site cataloging objects called OWN-IT.US Can you tell us a bit about your plans for this project? Does it relate directly to the House and Universe series?
MM: Essentially it’s an archive of the objects with elusive categorical constraints. It’s a small homage to the layered life of each object, including all beings that have participated in giving them life. House and Universe is about the weight of mining for, producing, distributing, and owning possessions, the struggles and pain embedded in processes of mass production.
AR: What can we expect to see at your upcoming exhibit at Robert Mann Gallery in September?
MM: Several bundles, photographs, and videos of the objects as homes and as obstructions. The photographs in House and Universe are collages that include boulder-forms and the equally cumbersome portable houses. One dictates and necessitates the other. One is the positive to the other’s negative. The collages are made up of photographs from multiple places and times, echoing the sculptures, emphasizing non-specificity, and illustrating their interconnection. Structures that are floating or that are anchors, sculptures that are either possessions or being possessed. Above all, I am asking a question about what the future could be. How are the rituals around production, consumption, and the ideas of ownership different?
Mary Mattingly lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Her latest solo show, Mary Mattingly: House and Universe opens Friday September 6th, 6-8 pm at Robert Mann Gallery, 525 West 26th Street, 2nd Floor . The show will run from September 6 – October 19, 2013.
For more information on the show visit: http://www.robertmann.com
For more images and information on Mary’s work visit her website: http://www.marymattingly.com/
View Art21’s piece on “Fill(Obstruct),” 2013:
Mary Mattingly: New York Close Up|Art21
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Jonathan Beer is a New York-based artist and writer. He began to write critically in 2010 while attending the New York Academy of Art for his MFA in Painting. His paintings have been exhibited at Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts, Flowers Gallery, Boltax Gallery and Sotheby’s in New York. Jon is also a contributing writer for The Brooklyn Rail, ArtWrit and for Art Observed.
Lily Koto Olive is a New York-based artist, writer and musician. She began to write critically about art in 2010 while attending the New York Academy of Art for her MFA in Painting. She has exhibited her paintings at the Dumbo Arts Center in Brooklyn, NY, HERE Arts Center, Sloan Fine Arts and ISE Cultural Foundation in NYC and Marketplace Gallery in Albany, NY. Lily is also a contributing writer for The Brooklyn Rail.