Waterpod, 2009
South Street Seaport & Governors Island

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

Mary Mattingly’s expansive practice takes societal consumption and ecological crisis as the points of inquiry for her works in sculpture, photography, performance, and beyond. Her artworks question the use and abuse of natural resources while envisioning alternative objects and models for living sustainably and efficiently, as well as adapting, producing, and consuming goods in the turbulent 21st century.

Mattingly’s most involved exploration thus far was her Waterpod project. Waterpod was a sustainable living unit, atop a 30-foot-by-100-foot deck barge, deployed for five months in the waterways between all five New York boroughs, including docking locations in Lower Manhattan at the South Street Seaport (June 13–21, 2009) and Governors Island (July 7–20, 2009). Multiple artists, including Mattingly, lived aboard Waterpod for the five-month duration as an experimental model of living within a nomadic, mobile shelter. Among Waterpod’s many features were a greenhouse dome with hydroponic growing systems, food compost, soil-based garden beds, a geodesic dome for concerts, lectures and ecological demonstrations, and a rechargeable battery system. The floating eco-habitat, both structure and sculpture, comprised of repurposed materials, utilized self-sufficient systems to generate resources including food (through hydroponic and vertical gardens as well as a chicken coop), water (through a filtering and purifying rainwater-catch system), and energy (through solar panels and a bicycle powered generator). Mattingly’s floating living system was an experiment in alternative, autonomous possibilities for habitation.

As Founder and Art Director for Waterpod, Mattingly worked with a considerable number of collaborators on the project, including Executive Director John McGarvey, Lead Builder Derek K. Hunter, and full-time Waterpod “resident” Alison Ward (who described the project as “a ship… a farm… an art residence… an installation.”)* When Waterpod docked periodically, Mattingly and crew led teach-ins about sustainable living and their experience and process aboard the malleable structure. These pedagogical opportunities included botany workshops, composting tutorials, enviro-science lectures, and reading group discussions. During its five-month run as a mobile living unit in 2009, over 200,000 people visited the Waterpod.

In speaking to the inspiration behind her visionary project, Mattingly stated, “I think we are in this really unique time before the storm… If we don’t start taking everything into account—our surroundings, our environment—we are doomed to fail as a human race because we won’t be able to live on this earth. I want to try to picture this future without mass production and its harder and harder to do all the time.” In its resourceful ability to help envision a self-sufficient future, Waterpod encapsulates a creative response at the heart of the most utilitarian artistic endeavors. Created a few years before the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast in 2012, Mattingly’s Waterpod project indeed provided a model for future living based on the speculative yet all-too-serious considerations of global climate change.

Following the Waterpod’s 2009 deployment, the alternative arts venue Exit Art mounted the 2010 exhibition Waterpod: Autonomy and Ecology including documentation, evidence, and ephemera from the Waterpod’s five-month journey throughout Manhattan’s five boroughs.

– Alex Fialho


*Ryzik Melena, “Life, Art and Chickens, Afloat in the Harbor,” New York Times, August 12, 2009, p. C1, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/13/arts/design/13barge.html


Photo Credit (in order of appearance):

The Waterpod Project, 2009
Photo Credit: Mike Nagle

The Waterpod Project, 2009
Photo Credit: Mary Mattingly