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Wearing art, moving art: Mary Mattingly’s social-scientific vision

MARY MATTINGLY is an artist but her art takes us and the artist away from so-called artistic frames—the physical frame which demarcates paintings and the base which supports sculptures, and many other temporal boundaries—and into the living world.

She has been described in various curatorial notes as an artist “whose artistic practice addresses nomadic themes with current and future environmental and political conditions, focusing on the interdependence of communities facing challenging political and climatic conditions.

Mattingly, whose artistic practice addresses nomadic themes with current and future global environmental and political conditions, is in the Philippines on a fellowship through smARTpowersm.

To supplement the fellowship program and to initiate the space for community engagement, Mattingly will be presenting both her project in the Philippines and her artistic interests and practices that move around interdependences of communities facing pressing political and climatic conditions.

Mattingly has been exhibiting since 2000, and is the recipient of several awards. The Waterpod Project shows the direction of her vision. Together with a group of artists, builders, civic activists, scientists and marine engineers in 2009, Mattingly led in the creation of the Waterpod Project, described as “a mobile, sculptural, autonomous habitat and public space built on a 3,000-square-foot barge.”

Circumscribed and limited, the work or project nevertheless appears to be a monumental response to an environment that is slowly moving beyond the control of human groups. The notes further explains the Waterpod Project as “designed to be an experimental platform for assessing the efficacy of onboard living systems, as well as to provide a public space for conversation and questioning the status quo concerning energy, water, food and shelter.”

It is said that more than 200,000 people have visited the Waterpod and participated in programs ranging from tours to classes, tutorials, music and meet-ups.

Mattingly is in the Philippines now on an artist fellowship under the program of smARTpowersm in a tie-up with the Green Papaya Art Project.

In effect, the art of Mattingly, while pushing artworks out of the confines of museums, brings us back to the caves where, as the notes from the curator state, “a person will connect a unit to a group of strangers’ units as needed, sharing tools, stories, and even a meal.”

Manila being a flood environment seems apt for this kind of art and ideation. In another realm, social scientists are also creatively and interestingly looking at our environment with strategies. On August 18, on the opinion page of this paper, I wrote about the “Cultures of Disaster.” A significant portion of that article focused on the paper of Dr. Emma, a sociologist based in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of the Ateneo de Manila University.

The paper, “Vulnerability on Flooded Riverlines in Urban Philippines,” which was read in a conference in New Delhi, spoke about how “vulnerable households have crafted survival strategies.” These techniques include “water-based lifestyle.” Mattingly now approaches the same situation, from the point of view of the arts.

To initiate her fellowship, Mattingly gave a talk at the Jose Joya Hall of the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts on September 25.

The talk was labeled “Wearable/Portable Architecture”—a project framed as an open-source collaboration and exchange that inquires about how our urban and rural surroundings would look like if our built enviroment is designed to move. Another forum, called “Mattingly’s Artist Talk,” where the artist was expected to discuss her general practice and interests as an art practitioner, was held on September 29 at Art Collaboratory, First United Building, on Escolta Street, Manila.

These presentations precede the workshops that she is conducting at Green Papaya Art Projects this month. In these workshops, the artist focuses on “designing mobile public spaces that can be assembled and disassembled with ease, utilizing location-appropriate materials and tools. In disassembled form, individual units might be carried and even worn; when a group of individuals meet up with these units, they may join them together to make a community structure, assembling spaces that not only protect but also collect water, store food and produce power.”

The workshops are ongoing until October 25 at the Green Papaya Art Projects, 41B T. Gener Street, Kamuning, Quezon City. The workshop run for a regular five hours a day and two days a week. Interested participants may contact the team at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Mattingly is an American visual artist living and working in New York. She was born in Rockville, Connecticut, in 1978. She studied at Parsons School of Design in New York, and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. She is the recipient of a Yale University School of Art fellowship.

smARTpowersm is an initiative of US Department of State’s cultural-diplomacy program. Administered by the Bronx Museum of Arts, smARTpower is sending 15 American artists abroad to work with local artists and young people around the world to create community-based art projects. Selected artists will design and develop programs in cooperation with local arts organizations in host countries, including China, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, India, Kosovo, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Venezuela. Green Papaya Art Projects has been appointed the local partner organization in the Philippines.

Green Papaya Art Projects is an independently run creative multidisciplinary organization in the Philippines founded in 2000, supporting various approaches to the production, dissemination, research and presentation of contemporary art practice in a variety of artistic and scholarly fields. It endeavors to provide a platform for intellectual exchange, sharing of information, critical dialogue and creative-practical collaboration among the artistic community.

In Photo: Dark Matter and Inflatable Homes










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