CZ: Please describe your career path. Why did you decide to become an artist? What did you hope to achieve/transmit as an artist when you first started your career? How have you, your perception, your message(s), your artistic medium(s) changed from when you started to today?
MM: I knew I wanted to pursue lens based media when I was young, my father trained me with his camera. I've always known I needed to focus on environmental concerns and proposing alternatives, whether dystopia or utopic. I grew up in the countryside in CT where the drinking water was polluted from pesticides, and water was always an issue. My concern for human and ecosystem health grew with privatization and the move away from commons in the US, pertaining to land and water.
CZ: Please describe the inspiration behind Swale, the purpose of the project, and the path to creating Swale. How did Swale become a reality? What obstacles or struggles did you face? How did you overcome these obstacles? How long did it take for Swale to transform from an idea to an actual floating barge?
MM: Swale was founded in 2016 after learning that in addition to over 100 acres of community garden space in NYC, the city cares for 30,000 acres of parkland. Waterway common law would allow Swale to do what is still illegal on NYC’s public land, while still being a test case for an edible “Foodway” on land. The idea was something I'd been working on for a while in different forms but it wasn't until 2014 when I was invited to go to Alaska and learned more about the struggle for affordable food that I refocused on possibilities in New York. I secured a small grant for the barge rental and then began the process of organizing the project. In 2009 I'd done a project in New York's waterways and knew about the different permits needed, so this knowledge helped the project come to fruition faster.
CZ: Please share some advice, the most valuable lessons you've learned through being a self-starter. What tips would you share with someone who wants to start their own project but doesn't know how to or where to start?
MM: We need to find the confidence to start grassroots projects, and I hope Swale and projects like it can give others the confidence to create heterotopic spaces that allow people to explore different ways of living together, stewarding and caring for one another.
CZ: What role do you think art plays in changing our environmental, economic and political landscapes? How can art catalyze change?
MM: Art can model alternatives, it can be provocative, provide a platform, help build coalitions.
CZ: Please share a description of "a day in the life of Mary Mattingly." What does your work usually involve? What do you find most challenging about your work? What do you find most rewarding?
MM: Every day is different, I teach half of the week and work with Swale everyday. I have maintenance work to do on other projects, and am always creating new artwork. I'm trying to be conscious of living and working with praxis, take more time for love and self care. The art I've been making more recently is the most difficult subject I've taken on - it's about privatization and violence embedded in the framework of our lives as residents of the US.
CZ: What are the biggest challenges we, as humans, face today in your opinion? How do you think we can solve them? What role do you think food can play in solving these challenges?
MM: Violence - from Corporate control of life (trees to seeds to humans) to direct violence. We can begin to solve violence by living more holistically. When people don't think about the effects of their actions then we will continue to live inside a violent framework without accountability.
Mary Mattingly is an artist that I learned about through one of her projects, Swale. Her project challenges a state law forbidding foraging in public lands. Swale is a floating barge that docks in various locations around NYC and invites people to come and forage their food for free. Mary very kindly helped me with this project via email.
Swale from above. Photos provided by Mary.