Eye To Eyebeam: A Conversation With Mary Mattingly

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Eye to Eyebeam is a series on Eyebeam's artists in residence and fellows that includes interviews, photos, and other information on Eyebeam’s artists and creative technologists. It is authored by Eyebeam intern Katherine DiPierro.

Mary Mattingly’s projects are studies in self-sufficiency. She is talented at envisioning and creating sculptures, installations, and architecture that not only speculate about human migration as a response to natural and human-created adversity, but also offer solutions for providing basic necessities alongside a nomadic lifestyle. Her pieces include wearable homes, a self-sustaining barge, and in her latest project, mobile “flock houses” that are receptive to the movements of New York City’s diverse populations. In her latest work, Mary’s projects also offer a means for community growth that is, in her own words, “low-tech, ad hoc, and adaptable.” Eyebeam intern Katherine DiPierro sent Mary a few questions about sustainability, the development of the Flock House, and even Occupy Wall Street.

Katherine DiPierro: Most of your projects center around accessibility to basic necessities - shelter, clothing, water - and play with the definition of what’s considered a typical way of looking at those necessities. What experiences led you to develop this body of work?

Mary Mattingly: In the year 2000, Bechtel, the World Bank and other organizations privatized water in parts of Bolivia. Thousands of people protested this in Cochabamba, as many were no longer able to afford it. With a concrete example of an essential need being sold for use at prices people can’t afford, and then studying the pervasiveness of water commodity trading and growth through globalization I realized if the present Military-industrial complex wasn’t already, then the future would become inhuman. At that time in my life I was continuously moving and studying architecture, media, and politics at different schools, always trying to travel with less belongings than the time before. I began researching practical inventions while re-learning how to create, find, and utilize necessities, and building “Wearable Homes”.

KD: Your latest project is the Flock House, which you’re hoping to develop during your Eyebeam fellowship. What do you think are the biggest challenges in producing and displaying these extremely mobile homes?

MM: Flock Houses are fairly mobile because they are lightweight and small, but they will depend on vehicles already heading in the direction of their next landing-place for the most mobility. Choreographing each stop beforehand and then figuring out which vehicles may be willing and available to let a Flock House hitch a ride takes some planning. Designing living and communication systems that can support a couple of people in a fairly small space (even by New York City standards) and within the other parameters I’ve set for the structures (including utilizing reused, local materials with a minimal power grid) has also been challenging, but these design and choreography demands are both parts of the process I enjoy. The present challenge is to arrange a framework so when the Flock Houses take to the world, the rest is spontaneous. The things I can’t plan ahead for will be the biggest challenges and the more rewarding experiences.

KD: Since the recent Occupy Wall Street movement (and the events occurring in solidarity, Occupy Together) has entered public thought, I feel as though there’s an increased interest, or at least an awareness, of infiltrating urban space. What’s your take on it; additionally, do you see current events impacting your Flock Houses?

MM: This endeavor is both a living space and an interactive public artwork, exploring and expanding the boundaries of housing and usable spaces. The structure and people residing inside will engage with the surroundings at each stop and be dependent on these places for additional sources of food, water, and electrical energy (largely generated through human power). We are working towards making a program to exchange resources, services, and skills, to continue what we are experiencing (and will continue to) at Occupy Wall Street and other movements: spreading ideas, knowledge, mutual cooperation, and democratic participation.

KD: In addition to the Flock House, do you plan to work on any other projects or seminars during your fellowship?

MM: Yes, I’m working on a couple of other things. One is a film project, and I'm working on expanding the "Wearable Homes" project to "Wearable Scalable Architecture". I’ll work on these units linking together and providing or storing necessities: shelter, food, and water.

Thanks for the interview, Mary! For the latest on Mary Mattingly’s current and future projects, be sure to visit her Eyebeam profile and personal website.