Go Deeper

Interview with Karla Stingerstein, WetLand Contributing Artist

Posted July 31st, 2014








Artist, gallery director/curator, and adjunct professor Karla Stingerstein is taking her fascination with objects and collaborative creativity to WetLand, the floating barge and self-sustaining ecosystem that will debut on August 15th as part of the 2014 Fringe Festival. Read below about her work with building garden beds, her favorite photo album, and her thoughts about art as connection.

What aspects of WetLand are you involved with during the planning and production process?

WetLand is the vision and work of Mary Mattingly, and part of her vision is to have collaborating artists involved with different aspects of the work’s creation. As a collaborating artist I am focused primarily on the creation of the wetland area which surround the vessel. This includes researching aspects of riverine ecosystems, brainstorming and sketching designs for a variety of wetland beds which include emergent to upper marsh areas, cultivating relationships with local nurseries and businesses to procure plants and building materials, and ultimately creating floating aquatic beds.

Close-up of a floating garden bed constructed by Karla Stingerstein.

Close-up of a floating garden bed constructed by Karla Stingerstein.

Why do you think it is important to look closely at the objects that make up our lives? How does this relate to the environment?

Lots of species, like some birds and crabs, collect objects.  Humans in general have the same impulse, so our  urge to surround ourselves with things is natural. Objects can be repositories of human histories, often forgotten ones, and when these objects are no longer relevant to their owners, they are discarded.  This act of discarding is often done without thought, and the planet is drowning in dispossessed stories. I think it is important to look closely at objects and how we engage with them so that we can steward those objects into new, environmentally healthy narratives.

What objects that you have encountered in your life are the most meaningful to you? What are their stories?

I am drawn to photo albums because they tell stories of meaningful moments.  You get fragments of other people’s lives as well as a vantage point from that image. Through a photo, you share another’s eyes for moment.

There is this one photo album I have.  It is not of my own family but one that seems to have belonged to a nurse from the 1950’s stationed abroad with the army. I bought it when I was in my early 20’s at a flea market in Lambertville, New Jersey.  I keep going back to the album, flipping through it, hoping to piece together more bits of her life. The one narrative that keeps emerging from the album is a friendship she has with a colonel. They seem to care for one another but I always sense some distance between them. I think she is from the Jersey shore because I recognize the houses in some of her home photos, but I cannot be certain. I have always wished there was a way to know enough to bring this album to the people in it.

Why do you make art?

Making art is a choice I make and a method I use to connect and communicate with people.

How does your background inform the work you are doing with WetLand?

The process by which I am finding sustainable solutions to the complex problems associated with my area of WetLand is being informed by my background in art and arts administration. For instance, my art practice includes the scavenging of material found on the streets. I collect detritus in order to restore “use” to the object.  This drive helps me explore ways to create floating garden beds that are sturdy, economical, and environmentally friendly as well as buoyant.  For example, one way to clean the river  its surroundings is to collect found water bottles. Fastening them onto the aquatic frame insures buoyancy.  The solution is free. These acts steward the environment by gathering the refuse and at the same time transform waste into something useful.

Some of the floating garden beds constructed by Karla Stingerstein.

More floating garden beds!

Also, my former administrative experiences are helping to figure out additional matters associated with Mary’s project.   I was the director of development for the Hunterdon Art Museum Museum in New Jersey as well as the gallery director for the Student Union Art Gallery at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. So I have experience in grant writing and in-kind donations. In other words, I connect patrons to public projects in order to create beneficial circumstances for both sides.  Because my skill set includes the making of creative works as well as the orchestrating philanthropic activities, I have found a way to make art by procuring in-kind donations for Mary’s project. Fusing these areas to benefit one another feels natural.  I can say I am now an “In-Kind” Artist.

What values or aspects of WetLand do you see as particularly significant to you personally?

There are so many, but one aspect of Wetland that is particularly significant is cooperative art-making. Making this project come to life is very complex, and even though I am entering it only at this later stage, there so many pieces that need coordination and creation all at once.  While the domicile is being constructed, the collection of plants needs to be managed, aspects of the hen house and the bees need to be organized while the docks need to be built, the boat’s interior needs to be renovated, and so on.  Alone, it might take Mary a very long time to realize her vision. A historic model of the “artist” is of a solitary practitioner in a studio.  In a world of ever-increasing connectedness, this model is changing. For me, Mary’s project illustrates this evolution.

What drew you to the process?

Mary is creating a work in which collaboration is fundamental to its operation. What makes this particular scenario so interesting is “how” Mary has involved everyone in WetLand. The result of her  collaborative paradigm is one in which space for individual vision is fostered.  Like systems in a body, we are all performing our separate functions but we are breathing together.  Ultimately, I see this kind of endeavor as one that provides me with hope – through mindful, community-sourced, and integrated art-making we can engender real, sustainable solutions.

What do you hope to learn from this process? What do you think will challenge you?

I hope to keep finding ways to apply these skills towards future projects by bringing bring people together to reshape our perceptions and actions as members of a community.  There will always be challenges, logistical, inter-personal, financial, environmental, etc. but I believe that the continued development and successful application of a holistic paradigm has the potential to overcome them.

Thank you, Karla!

Independence Seaport Museum Pier
211 South Columbus Blvd (at Dock St)
Aug 15­–Sept 21, 10:00am–5:00pm (ongoing)
More information:


– Abby Holtzman