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In the beginning was. Sustainable visions and the past’s infraction

2009 is the year of The Waterpod Project¹, the year in which Mary Mattingly², thanks to an enormous amount of courage, gave us a concrete example of what it means to live in harmony with nature and to live connected with its inhabitants.


The concept of “will” is too much often underestimated, but yet without this concept it is impossible to realize an “action”, to give shape to an idea, to build castles and skyscrapers. The same fate awaits those who choose to act respecting our environment, by operating in a sustainable way. If you don’t really want something, a thought remains an abstract and aleatory wind’s blow, which will never set roots and, consequently, will never grow. The American artist Mary Mattingly is well aware of this, a woman that in three years gave birth to the artistic project called “The Waterpod Project”, inaugurated in 2009, by realizing a totally auto-sustainable movable space which, by passing through the waters of the coast of New York, has been able to raise the awareness of the public opinion on the current climate change, by integrating different types of renewable energies using systems of self-sufficient growth of the production, and setting up art expositions dedicated to the sensitive subjects of ecology and sustainability in some specific spaces, while during specific days were organized some activities which were meant to make the spectator feel a part of the eco-sustainable world. A true 360-degree operation that synthesized architecture, sculpture, design, painting, innovation, and science. An assembling of heterodox parts donated by various government agencies, and in some cases by private companies, the Pod at first looked like a gigantic organism produced by the post-industrial era; An important element of this project is its aspect, which is very heteromorphic, but that somehow feels “old” or, to be more precise, a “survivor”. No wonder that Mallingly too focuses on this concept: almost every work of art she made feels like something that vanquished time itself, that overcame many obstacles to reach our distorted present. In this artist’s work, themes like time, recycling, danger, survival, sustainability, climate change, overpopulation are constantly proposed and linked each time in a different way; the artist interrogates herself about this specific themes in order to find a possible solution, and she does with a relentless intuition. In this regard, the platform was successful, because it was able to find smart and innovative solutions, making a contribution to the harsh debate on the possibility make an action, by respecting at the same time the terms of an eco-sustainable environment. More specifically speaking, the Pod revitalized grey waters, built a vertical garden that can be used as a vegetable garden, studied and analyzed life systems with zero impact, alternative commercial practices, exploiting solar panels, wind turbines, and saltwater batteries.

“Finding sustainable solutions for living made me question the design as well as the role of community in the space”³ Mattingly said. As peculiar as the project’s multi-functionality, is the Pod’s architecture too, which revolves around two main domes, the organism’s two hearts, that were meant to crown the pre-existing vessel. The first one, covered by a steel structure, becomes a community space, were are held events and where the boat’s inhabitants gather. Near of it, stands the skeleton of the second semi-hemispheric structure, which is made of steel too, but in this case, the steel is left uncovered, because the agricultural experiment of the boat grows inside of it. Around these circular spaces we can see other green spaces, which have the same function of a vegetable garden, and the locals where the showers, the gathering points of rainwater, and the kitchen are placed. Below deck are located the ship cabins, a guest room, and a studio from which it is possible to observe the submarine world as if you were in an aquarium. Each zone has its own specific collocation, which grants the possibility to use the entire structure in a functional and efficient way. Living by respecting the laws of nature it’s not as easy as it seems but, despite this fact, the researchers and the artist’s roommates of the Pod, conducted a sustainable lifestyle, making the concept of sustainability the main engine, which used to set in motion every action inside of the Waterpod’s ecosystem, demonstrating the fundamental importance of a possible transfer of this lifestyle in a bigger context. Maybe we don’t need a spectacular apocalyptic calamity; Maybe we just need to wait for the next rising of the sea level, which it’s already happening and it’s revealing itself a silent killer, just like a silent gas set free because of a lack of care. We can’t rule out that in a distant past a similar phenomenon may have already happened; Does the name Atlantis ring a bell? Despite the fact that, at a first glance, this project may seem the expression of a hippie community which doesn’t belong to the present, the Waterpod project is a post-contemporary work of great innovation, although it has its flaws (a part of this problem is represented by its “flower child” appearance, and by its insufficient requirement of completeness). In some ways, this is the demonstration of what could be waiting for us in a post-apocalyptic future, which may be connected to old productive patterns, like the close and self-sufficient medieval economy, or to modern and temporary social organizations, which possess a flexible and malleable as it happens in specific extreme conditions. The concept of transience is essential in order to comprehend the importance of adopting a solution, which aims to preserve and revitalize what we consider the “scrap” of the production process. We need to learn to go back to our roots, to “rewind the tape” and to proceed in the opposite direction if we want to save that which can still be saved of our condemned planet.
Mary Mattingly has demonstrated in many occasions the artistic and political will that permeates and which represents the main expression of her work, a work which aims to a deep reflection and to a redefinition of the schemes and behavior patterns set by society, and to the abandon of habits that represent a treat for our environment. The artist concretizes visions of our future and possible scenarios showing us a way to resurrection, and this is pretty evident when you look to other two of her series, such as House and Universe (2013), in which pile of random objects found on the street modify their own identity by becoming movable houses, which grow and change every time they encounter abandoned materials on their way. Some human spiral snails, which pay attention to the perception of climate, biologic and social variation; once again, the adaptation wins the war of evolution. In a world that’s dying, going back to a responsible lifestyle towards the planet acquires a demiurgic role, by restoring order and by dealing with the wastes left by the hand of indisciplined and careless people. Fragility, mutability and change are the shards that characterize this universe: “My work proposes a world returned to nomadic roots following a peripatetic population constantly on the move. It expects that in the near future, much more of the world’s population will be forced to be nomadic. I focus on the creation of wearable environments, and autonomous living/traveling systems, based in engineering and science and fused with fantasy.”⁴ Mattingly’s observations almost seem like sci-fi fiction, and yet if we observe the reality which surrounds us, we can see a fragment of the truth in her words: a tragic fate that eventually we’ll have to face.

Close to the poetic and to the message conveyed by Mattingly, even if in a less effective way, are also two Italian artists, Ettore Favini⁵ and Eugenio Tibaldi⁶ which, from the 20 of September 2019 to the 12 January 2020, inside of the “Museo del Novecento” of Milan, have amplified through multimedia language the symbolic and significant horizon of the concept of sustainability. Ettore Favini’s “Atlantico” lingers on framing the various phases of water sublimation, by telling a story of transformation and rebirth, which is also a story of acceptance and respect towards life and its cycle. In this way, nature’s independence and the need to create a harmonic relationship between nature and man both become more evident. A particularly interesting fact is the mist, which is inspired by Leonardo’s shades, creating a successful game of references. It’s also interesting to imagine what may lie in the opaque plots of the thick and ethereal flimsiness. On the contrary, Eugenio Tibaldi is even more intriguing, because in his “Giardino abusivo“⁷ (Abusive Garden) he creates a fascinating dynamic between life and death, inclusion and exclusion, nature and city, by tracing the flexible borders of an improvised garden which spontaneously grows between the scraps of society. Plants and shrubs stretch from unusual pots such as refrigerators and toilets, bathtubs, bed nets, mattresses and tires, which create peculiar and dystopian configurations, by reconnecting to the needs of declining reality, which was invaded by the spasmodic growth of its scraps and garbage. Tibaldi is able to solve the puzzle, creating funny and effective visions and proposals to make us think; and who knows, maybe someday we’ll live in daily life scenarios like these, at the dawn of a new era. Sophisticated and ironic, the artist’s installation reveals the implications and the consequences of a careless and corrupt act. On the other hand, for its demonstrating the urgency of a conscious act, and for its closing the circle by taking that last step necessary to the Pod in order for it to be more complete, the 4Ocean⁸ association’s campaign deserves special attention. Cleaning the ocean by collecting plastic, and using this plastic to create bracelets to finance this cleaning initiative becomes the last piece to the puzzle, the puzzle that represents that which can be considered an active and transforming action that lets the ocean breath again. In this case the green data is neglected, but we must not forget that talking about “green” means talking about the “blue” of the water too, which is the engine of life. Reality is the result of a collective will’s expression, but we should ask ourselves if this reality truly reflects the plurality’s expectations, or if it was lost and corrupted along the way.

Works like those of Mattingly and of other artists like her constantly remind us about what we have lost, about what we must find again, and about what needs to be modified for the sake of humanity and the planet. The will to cooperate towards a future that deserves to be called “future” is a massive undertaking, but it’s not impossible and the Pod experience, with its miniature experiment, is something we should aspire to; Obviously, nothing could have been achieved without the accurate and precise preliminary planning of the project, which required an enormous amount of work and fundings. Sometimes one must take a risk and, sometimes, one must do that with a strategy. It was worth the wait.

Translated into English by Matteo Annecchiarico.

¹ About Waterpod project, The Waterpod,, last modified 15/10/2010, date of consultation 03/01/2020.
² Mary Mattingly Artwork, Mary Mattingly website,, last modified 30/06/2020, date of consultation 12/07/2020.
³ Lauren O’Neill-Butler, Mary Mattingly talks about The Waterpod, Artforum,, last modified 01/04/2009, date of consultation 15/12/2019.
Mary Mattingly Portfolio,,, date of consultation 15/12/2019.
⁵ Marco Scotti, Ettore Favini. Un’intervista sospesa tra viaggio e immobilità, o un intreccio tra il Mediterraneo e il cotechino, Zero Milano,, last modified 08/02/2018, date of consultation 10/02/2020.
Eugenio Tibaldi Progetti, Eugenio Tibaldi website,, last modified 08/07/2020, date of consultation 12/07/2020.
After Leonardo, Eugenio Tibaldi website,, date of consultation 12/12/2019.
We are a purpose-driven business with a mission to end the ocean plastic crisis, The 4Ocean Bracelet,, date of consultation 15/12/2019.

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Freelance journalist, graduated in Multimedia and Technology at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, she was born in 1994 in the heart of the Roman capital where she graduated from the Ripetta Art High School, while studying Japanese at the Japanese Institute of Culture. Passionate about art, cinema and photography, she opened the contemporary art blog in 2015. From 2017 she collaborates as editor for the figurative arts section of the online magazine, while from February 2019 she starts writing for the art magazine “Titolo”.
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