When artist Mary Mattingly’s last apartment kept flooding, she was struck by how porous the building suddenly seemed—“There was water pouring in from everywhere; the ceiling, the roof, through the walls.” An ensuing stress dream featured an Escher-like building in an endless cycle of repair and decay, with water collecting in all its crevices. It was this image that became the basis for Mattingly’s newest exhibition, Ebb of a Spring Tide, at Socrates Sculpture Park. Through a series of site-specific works, this vision of apocalyptic limbo is transformed into fertile ground for a new future.
At the center of the installation is Water Clock, a 65-foot tall sculpture that traces the squared contours of the Manhattan skyline. A direct translation of Mattingly’s dream, water from the nearby East River, stored in 55-gallon drums atop the structure, drips through a scaffold of steel beams and wooden planks. The amount of water that seeps through Water Clock waxes and wanes, ebbing in time with the tide thanks to a computerized motor. Flowing through an eclectic series of tubes and funnels, it trickles between the scaffolding onto an array of salt-tolerant, edible plants. The wild bergamot, verbenas, and indigo are the new tenants of this apartment.
Faced with the increasingly volatile forces of nature brought on by anthropogenic climate change, our seemingly solid structures often reveal themselves to be all the more transparently hollow. Like much of Mattingly’s practice, this exhibition works overtime, both identifying problems of ecology and the environment while offering potential curative alternatives—all with her characteristic sense of joy, community, and most urgently, hope. In doing so, she follows in the footsteps of artists like Agnes Denes, Mel Chin, and Maria Thereza Alves who have long recognized that it is not enough for artists to simply point to an ill; it is the artist’s distinct power to imagine something beyond it...