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WETLAND OPENS TONIGHT! Here’s Greg Lindquist on WetLand, Empathy, and Boat Cuisine

Posted August 15th, 2014
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Greg Lindquist rappelling to fasten and paint the roof of WetLand. Photo: Mary Mattingly.

Greg Lindquist – artist, professor, and WetLand collaborator – is fashioning a harness out of rope. He secures himself in, ties the other end to a naked beam, and leans back, held firm by the same rope that is lashed around the dozens of hollow, blue drums keeping WetLand’s garden barges afloat on the Delaware River.

These gardens surround a central structure, a post-apocalyptic vision of a house succumbing to rising water, its windows tilted in deference to nature’s torrid, turgid comeuppance. WetLand, which will open to the public on August 15th as part of the 2014 FringeArts Festival, is a floating structure comprised of this crooked domicile and a mess of plants thriving around it, including the series of buoyant barges which support everything from sunflowers to tomatoes. The doomed house is built upon a reconfigured houseboat, which will soon also be home to solar panels, a water filtration system, a chicken coop for egg-laying hens, and a beehive. With these resources, WetLand’s main creator, artist Mary Mattingly, will live on-site, accompanied by a rotating cast of collaborators and artists-in-residence who will stow away at night in WetLand’s angular attic, under a dramatic slope of upcycled plywood.

It is this slope that Lindquist now clings to, drilling neat lines of screws into its surface. His homemade harness is holding him securely to the boat, albeit a boat sculpted intentionally to appear on the cusp of complete instability.

Lindquist’s connection to WetLand starts with his relationship with Mattingly, whose early photographic work he came across while working on his thesis at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Lindquist has long been interested in how landscapes can represent social, economic, and political issues, and he was accordingly drawn to Mattingly’s work, which imagines how water usage and flooding might impact land formation. Since then, the two have collaborated on a variety of projects, from a two-person exhibition in North Carolina that Lindquist organized to Mattingly’s Flock House project, in which he made a painting installation. Like WetLand, Flock House involved creating an aesthetically interesting public habitat that makes us rethink the shape of our everydays.

Although Lindquist identifies as more artist than activist, his paintings are always enmeshed in issues and themes that he cares about, worlds of ideas much larger than could ever be expressed. “The one thing that I know about the work I make is that it’s not simply a pretty painting. It has a contextual basis, it has a network of other issues and meanings and enactments of things.” he said. “These series of translations are important because I’m taking a lot of imagery and collating and collapsing it into a two-dimensional work.” This process of rendering is messy but necessary.

“I’ve always been a painter who has been interested in ideas outside of painting,” Lindquist said. He cites a critical reading group that he and Mattingly founded together with some writer and curator friends as one example of his work as an artist extending off the canvas, as something that has “pushed against the idea of painting as being this static, singular, discrete object, a painting on the wall. It’s about everything around it, too,” he said. Lindquist sees his writing, teaching, painting, and collaborating as completely intertwined. “[They] are all the same project, they just happen to not fit within the same frame,” he said. “No pun intended.”

Greg Lindquist, Duke Energy's Dan River II, oil on canvas, 78 by 68 in, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

Greg Lindquist, Duke Energy’s Dan River II, oil on canvas, 78 by 68 in, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

Some of Lindquist’s recent work has focused on an environmental disaster close to his childhood home in Wilmington, North Carolina – a coal ash spill in the northern part of the state that contaminated the Dan River and dredged up the governor’s affiliations with the perpetrator, Duke Energy. “My work dealt with [the question], ‘How do you visualize this in a pleasing, beautiful way that lured people into the issue and then allowed them to engage and be confronted by it in a way that works against the inherent beauty [of the piece]?” Lindquist said. One of his pieces, a 40-foot wide painting of “swirling vortices” of coal ash mixing with river water, embodies a particularly grotesque beauty which both attracts and repels.

Lindquist wants his work to elicit a complex aesthetic response, but also an empathic response. “I believe painting is very important to engaging people because it can put someone in the position where they imagine themselves not only as the viewer but as the person who made it,” he said. Painting can also allow an audience to see the work “as a living, breathing entity and object that can have a dialogue with you,” he said. This mutable ability for empathy can in fact be invoked by an aesthetic response. “I think beauty can increase sensitivity,” Lindquist said.

With a pressing issue like environmental disaster, an audience moved to sensitivity and engagement may be one step closer to taking action. Lindquist believes that only art can generate that kind of charged attention. “The difference between using beauty in… art and in activism is that activism has a main goal in sight and it’s about getting to that goal. I think that in doing that it mechanizes and commodifies the process,” he said. “Painting is a very slow burn, it’s a very open-ended process, so it also allows you to see the nuances of a situation and be able to constantly amend and revise your position on something, so it’s more organic and open ended.”

For Lindquist, developing empathy about important issues through his art is also deeply tied to building community. “I have no disillusionment about art changing the world or changing these issues. I don’t think that’s going to take great strides, but I think it will give a platform for people to talk about [these issues], to come together and have conversations,” he said. These conversations, however, cannot happen until communities are aware of the issues in the first place. Lindquist recalls travelling across North Carolina with Mattingly and giving talks at universities where few people knew the basic facts about the coal ash disaster happening in their own state. “I think raising awareness is the first step, but it’s not the end goal,” he said. “The end goal is to really build a discourse and then have people make the decisions themselves, to see the issue, to decide how they want to be inspired by it or what action they want to take.”

With his art, Lindquist hopes to provide a way for people to come together and make these decisions collaboratively. “Empathy is the way to bring people in and give them a safe space to think about [these issues],” he says. He is inspired by a number of community-oriented artists, including Doug Ashford, whose artist collective Group Material put together community-engaged exhibitions in the East Village of New York City. One featured donated household items from around the neighborhood, accompanied by their stories.

Panel Cooker for Boat Banquet, built by Tamsin Doherty, August, 2014. Photo: Tamsin Doherty.

Panel Cooker for Boat Banquet, built by Tamsin Doherty, August, 2014. Photo: Tamsin Doherty.

Lindquist has also learned a lot about community from Mattingly. “Something I’ve really learned from Mary and her work is that it involves many partnerships and collaborations and mutual learning exchanges,” he said. Lindquist is excited about his own role on WetLand, which involves a focus on developing the gardens and planning the Boat Banquet, which will take place on Saturday, August 16th and Sunday, August 17th and celebrate WetLand’s opening with mainly boat-grown food.

“There’s something interesting about making the work site specific in its endemic location, from the gardens, in the proximity of which they were taken,” he said. Lindquist will be cooking with a combination of solar cookers and induction cooktops running on solar power. The solar cookers “look like futuristic instruments from some of Mary’s earlier photographs so I find it interesting that it’s within a speculation about what the future looks like if we didn’t have resources,” he said.

Boat banquet prep practice cooking, sauce from WetLand garden: carmelized minced garlic, diced pepper, chopped tomatoes, pepper flakes, sweet pepper, and spinach, on gluten-free penne, and lemon wedge. Minced garlic, lemon juice, olive oil spinach, baby kale side salad. Photo: Greg Lindquist.

Boat banquet prep practice cooking, sauce from WetLand garden: carmelized minced garlic, diced pepper, chopped tomatoes, pepper flakes, sweet pepper, and spinach, on gluten-free penne, and lemon wedge. Minced garlic, lemon juice, olive oil spinach, baby kale side salad. Photo: Greg Lindquist.

The future may be murky but the table will be set on Friday with enough greenery to feed a horde of hammer-wielding artists. The food will be vegan and gluten-free. On the menu is everything from a lavender and orange salad with micro-greens to sorrel pesto to dinosaur kale, a vegetable whose moniker promises great things. “Eating is one of the few essential pleasures we have left,” Lindquist said. “Just like painting.”

– Abby Holtzman

WetLand
Independence Seaport Museum Pier
211 South Columbus Blvd (at Dock St)
Aug 15­–Sept 21, 10:00am–5:00pm (ongoing)
More information: http://www.wet-land.org/

A Watery, Sinking Future: Interview with Mary Mattingly, creator of WetLand

Posted July 31st, 2014
WetLand. Image by Mary Mattingly.

WetLand. Image by Mary Mattingly.

If you’ve ever wished you could live at the Fringe Festival, you should meet Mary Mattingly. The Presented Fringe artist will live on WetLand, a boat-based ecosystem moored on the Delaware River, for the entirety of the Festival. WetLand captures the uncertainties of city-based living in an age of global warming, and proposes a hopeful alternative. In addition to housing Mary and other artists, WetLand will also host concerts, workshops, skill shares, and a few performances by Neighborhood Fringe artists. WetLand will be free and open daily Aug 15–Sept 21.

FringeArts: Why is the title WetLand?

Mary Mattingly: I’m concerned about the slow erasure of wetlands around the world, as they are important ecosystems that breed aquatic and terrestrial life, protect the mainland from storms, and naturally clean the air and waterways. They are often drained for large building projects and result in areas that flood, destructing homes and infrastructure in a loss that is for some unrecoverable. The largest loss is ecosystem diversity, which has tremendous reverberating effects throughout the natural world, and in the end makes the planet a worse place for us all to live.

I wanted to bring more attention to the necessity of wetlands, and pair it with a sinking house to describe causation through a symbolic artwork. I was also thinking about the combination in a very literal way: wet and land, to describe a watery, sinking future.

FringeArts: What’s the process of creation in such a work?

Mary Mattingly: In this piece I began considering the natural zone between the river and urban space. In many cities, it’s a space that is either overlooked or that undergoes a process of quick development. It’s a place where we must consider nature, because we are so close to it and dependent on it. Reconnecting the water with a row house puts many of us in the place of the inhabitant.

I was spending a lot of time thinking about how we live in a social system that allows us an illusion of disconnect from nature. We expect our food to be in the grocery store, we are accustomed to clean water coming from the tap, but those are expectations most of the world doesn’t have, and they are things that we can’t always be dependent on. Marrying nature to the city directly describes these food, water, and energy systems we depend on.

FringeArts: How do habitat, water, and art connect for you?

Mary Mattingly: These things are all necessities for me, and I need one as much as the other. As artists we often work with our own needs, and sometimes those are universal. Water has always been a particular concern for me. I grew up in an area that continually flooded, and where the drinking water contained dangerously high levels of agricultural runoff, having long-term effects on the area. I watched bottled water become a popular commodity, and learned about Bechtel and the World Bank’s privatization of water in Bolivia, which was eventually reversed through long protests.

FringeArts: Why is it important to live on WetLand?

Mary Mattingly: Living on WetLand is an essential part of an experiment that needs to be played out in real time. Like a form of performance art, it’s an exploration through endurance, and we also keep the living systems running. It’s an act of creating an ecosystem from which three people will eat, drink, shower, work, sleep, learn, and share.

FringeArts: How do you see this relationship between the solitary artist and the need to construct a community?

Mary Mattingly: Like many people, I thrive on both solitude and solidarity. I believe we need to make more time and physical spaces to be together, to strengthen the ties we have found in the virtual space and regain those that have been lost because of those separations. We need to make a better world to live in, and when we are confined to inside spaces it’s easy to forget about the larger world around us, and how something we do here affects someone across the world.

FringeArts: Why the clearly human-made aesthetic of WetLand?

Mary Mattingly: It’s important for me to distinguish this work from doing something in a “back to land” context. Many times people leave cities because they want to be closer to land, and because they can. But many people cannot. Leaving the city in most cases is a luxury that allows for a different perspective. I want to have more chances for some of that perspective here in our cities, and bringing nature and natural living systems to a city’s periphery is a way I’ve thought to do that.

Living in a city is such an asset. There are always people around we can turn to, learn from, and work with. I believe that our urban centers will need to be the future sites that produce our daily necessities (especially food, energy, and water) and we need to strengthen citywide projects that focus on that production, on small scales with our neighbors, and on larger scales with our entire city. When we are solely dependent on a large supply chains for our daily needs, then we are beholden to it and it’s virtually impossible to see the larger picture of how these systems exploit the environment and human labor.

Thank you, Mary.

WetLand event information available here. Events are free, but may require an RSVP. Tickets and more information about Fringe Festival shows here.

WetLand
Independence Seaport Museum Pier
211 S Columbus Boulevard (at Dock Street)
Aug 15–Sept 21, ongoing daily 10am–5pm

WetLand crosses the Delaware

Posted July 22nd, 2014

Photo by Josh McIlvain IMG_3818
July 22, 2014, in the morning: The main structural component of WetLand by Mary Mattingly, a houseboat, turns towards its destination–the dock at the Independence Seaport Museum–as it is towed into the harbor. Commissioned for the 2014 Fringe Festival, WetLand will be open August 15 to September 21, daily, and is free to the public.

Thanks KnightArts! Winners of the Philadelphia KnightArts Challenge are Announced!

Posted April 30th, 2013
Nick at Knight, accepting award at gala. Photo by Susan Beard.

Nick at Knight, accepting award at gala. Photo by Susan Beard.

The Knight Foundation announced 43 winners of the third and final year of the foundation’s three-year arts challenge. And FringeArts is one of the winners! The award will help  FringeArts “commission artist Mary Mattingly to ignite imaginations about a sustainable future by creating a large and visually stunning utopic floating structure called WetLand. A participatory art project, WetLand will be a water-based ecosystem replete with solar panels, gardens and housing, erected on a floating barge docked along the Delaware River. Creating an island-like environment, WetLand will be an educational space that visitors can board and explore, stirring thoughts about water usage and the environment.”

Also included in the winners is our own Theresa Rose, the FringeArts visual arts program director, who is also an artist and arts organizer. Her project: “To create connections between neighborhood restaurateurs and artistic will produce cutting-edge art and food projects that respond to growing trends in contemporary art and emerging food culture. The project will commission internationally renowned artists to develop site-specific and content-relevant local food projects. Participating restaurants will be predominantly family run and reflect the neighborhood’s demographics. During the spring of 2015, each artist will present their project that may include artist-designed dinner events, menu additions and other collaborations with the restaurants.”

Read the whole list here, as the Knight Foundation gave support to an impressive array of organization and artists across the city, in very refreshingly un-Vannevar Bush fashion. There are a number of pop-up performance projects so expect art to be happening in unexpected places, a number of get the audience doing the art, and community building through art. Lots of cool stuff!