Mary Mattingly is an artist who creates work about imagined futures she calls Proposals. Her sculptural ecosystems have resulted in large-scale participatory projects around the world. In 2016, she led Swale, a floating sculpture and edible landscape on a barge in New York that depended upon water common law and inspired NYC Parks to establish their first public "Foodway." Her work has been exhibited at institutions such as Storm King Art Center, the International Center of Photography, Seoul Art Center, the Brooklyn Museum, Palais de Tokyo, Barbican Art Gallery, and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana. Notable grants include the Guggenheim Foundation Grant, the James L. Knight Foundation, the Harpo Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Jerome Foundation.  It has been featured in various documentaries and publications, including Art21 and The New York Times. Her monograph titled "What Happens After" was published by the Anchorage Museum and Hirmer in 2022. (link to full bio)

2015 A Blade of Grass Fellow Mary Mattingly created Swale, a floating food forest that invites the public to cultivate fresh food as it travels through NYC harbors, acting as a setting for conversations about food and public policy.


The work of Mary Mattingly suggests an undeniable suspension of disbelief, a leap of some brand of faith, but with eyes open. Her work and ideas are striking, and precipitate a change in consciousness… to foresee a place that doesn’t pretend to be utopia, but instead offers an alternative way of being, of thinking that is dependent on the stark reality of our choices made or unmade, unadorned. What are we willing to sacrifice in the process to ultimately secure a sustainable way of life and respectful co-existence?

During her fellowship at the University of Michigan, Mattingly traveled to the Upper Peninsula, exploring its terrain and cobalt mines. She thrifted for glassware and other goods, visited trash sites, met with metal workers, and airplane mechanics. She engaged with students at U-M from diverse departments collecting personal objects for a sacred burial on the Diag, a related project to her installation in the gallery. Each workshop included the ritual of tea, storytelling, drawing, but also 3D imaging which became part of her digital archives. There was never any sense that she placed more value on one object or another, or one ritual, but rather, and all became part of a bundle.

In preparation for her exhibition, the cumulative cobalt hue of her studio at U-M Stamps School which was comprised of her forgings…blue glass, blue powder, blue fabrics, blue pipes, was both infatuating and intoxicating. Scales and diagrams, photographs taken on location, and a series of carefully orchestrated suspensions and pulleys all seemed to potentially lead us to some peculiar and certain destination, a Eureka moment of an exalted explorer, a promise. Perhaps the true brilliance was the way everything seemingly converged, only to reveal loose ends, connections and disconnections, a network of tangents, a mesh of turns, the various routes of mazes. The work Mary Mattingly creates can only exist because, although she fully recognizes the impossibility of things, she insists on residing in the realm of the possible.

—Amanda Krugliac, Curator at U-M Institute for the Humanities


Mary Mattingly Owns Up

Do objects come with responsibility? In this film, Mary Mattingly transforms personal belongings into sculptural forms that she later incorporates into photographs and performative actions. Experimenting with living in her Greenpoint studio space, Mattingly is determined to live with just the bare essentials.

Over several months, she undertakes a process of recording every object she owns and tracing the history of each of her belongings—how it came into her life, its distribution via complex global supply chains, as well as where the raw materials for its manufacture was sourced—before uploading a digital version of each object to her website OWN-IT.US for others to access. Throughout this process, she takes stock of the environmental and societal impact of her personal consumption.

Mattingly aggregates all of her personal belongings into boulder-like sculptural bundles, held together with rope, so that she is able to roll and drag them. She’s photographed walking the sculpture Fill (Obstruct) (2013) across the Bayonne Bridge, from Staten Island to New Jersey, and to the Port of New York New Jersey—symbolically returning her personal belongings to the place where they entered the East Coast.

Triple Island

Triple Island has a very specific aesthetic intention,” says Mattingly, “and it is to imagine a world with leftover materials and how you would build and what it would look like.” Through summer heat and winter cold, the artist and several intrepid volunteers live in the sculpture, collecting rain for water, harnessing solar energy for power, and harvesting a garden for food. Residents’ motives for participating vary widely; for artist Ivan Gilbert, Triple Island offers a chance to gain “a few more degrees of relative freedom from giant inhuman institutions.” Partnering with a coalition of advocacy organizations, such as the Hester Street Collaborative and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Mattingly’s project is less an experiment in individualistic self-sufficiency as it is in the communal sharing of local resources. - Art21

The Waterpod Project