Water Clock, 2023. Steel, vessels, found materials, East River water, and salt-tolerant, edible plants, installation view. Photo: Scott Lynch, Courtesy Socrates Sculpture Park

Repetition & Endurance: A Conversation with Mary Mattingly

For Mary Mattingly, art is about life and survival. Her interlinked earth-, water-, food-, and community- centered projects attune us to the planet’s basic rhythms and needs (as well as our own), helping us to understand the complex ecosystems that sustain us. In addition to photography, performance, wearable art, and portable architecture focused on behavioral and adaptive strategies in the face of climate change, she creates self-sufficient sculptural systems that poetically interpret and functionally re-create natural ecosystems. “Ebb of a Spring Tide,” Mattingly’s recent exhibition at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, New York, featured one such system—a living Water Clock rising from the “ruins” of a leaking, overgrown building. Through the flow of saltwater around and through its maze-like infrastructure, this alternative clock marked time in natural cycles while nourishing a foraging garden of edible plants.

With the support of a 2023 Guggenheim Fellowship, Mattingly is currently working on the latest “proposal” in her series of large-scale, nomadic, collaborative ecosystems, which began with Waterpod (2009), a self-sufficient “eco-habitat” and experiment in urban sustainability. The new work, Shoal, will be an expanded version of Swale, a floating public commons and edible landscape on a reclaimed barge that first appeared in New York City’s public waterways in 2016. Shoal is planned as a “permanent and accessible food forest” that will begin serving Brooklyn and Queens in the summer of 2024.

Jan Garden Castro: How did you learn to do what you do?
Mary Mattingly:
I’ve always considered water, food, and home to be my crucial investigations. I grew up outside of New York City and had a mixed relationship with water—between caution/concern and appreciation. . .

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