Spanning 65 feet, this monumental sculptural ecosystem hosts families of salt-tolerant plants alongside a flowing water clock embedded in its center. An ancient time measuring device, the Water Clock’s pulse is kept by water from the nearby estuary moving through tubes into vessels, evoking a life support system. The sculpture mirrors the Manhattan skyline, highlighting our human impact on the nearby riparian zone—a crucial meeting point between land and water.
Materials that are commonly used in industrial agriculture—IBC bins, 55 gallon drums, and stock tanks—have been refashioned into generative spaces for living organisms, demonstrating the potential of everyday objects to inspire new ways of thinking about sustainability and self-sufficiency. The inclusion of doors and a bed frame references an apartment building, which connects to Mattingly’s personal experience of facing floods in her own apartment. This direct encounter provided the artist with a deeper understanding of our interconnected relationship with water cycles.
Mary Mattingly discusses her exhibition Ebb of a Spring Tide and Water Clock
Mary: Ebb of a Spring Tide asks the water to explain its own time. It tells time through the cycling flow and movement of water, through the large Water Clock. How it collects in the surrounding sedimentary formations, and how it responds to the tidal shift of the East River. Watching and listening to these water flows can be seen as a symbolic presence of the tides.
Ebb of a Spring Tide is about my last apartment unit, it was in the lowest level and would flood when high tide met with torrential rains. I started following the tides. After it happened a few times, I was able to move to the top floor. Which I also quickly learned leaked from the roof this time, when it rained. The sculpture’s form is based on a dream I had, a building built with a scaffolding frame with steps and tiers to compose the water element, like a deconstructed apartment building collecting water in its crevices (with doors to nowhere and ladders to nowhere – in continual repair. If you were to see it from above, the form replicates the East River’s tide map. In the dream, the canoe was right there, but I couldn’t use it because it was porous, full of holes and also sinking.
My work is about home, food, water, and care, especially through the stewardship of ecosystems. Here, I wanted the sculpture to show what could grow when more and more lands are inundated with salt water intrusion. As the East River expands, and as storm scenarios change in a city with prevalence of more storm events. All these plants are salt-tolerant and some thrive in salt water, they’re all edible or have medicinal properties. Like the ecosystems that I inhabit daily, installing and maintaining the Water Clock elements in Ebb of a Spring Tide is about balance. While it acts like a machine, it’s also organic. It needs to be tended to with patience and diligence. I believe when a human-made ecosystem is small enough to comprehend, it opens up more opportunities for care. It’s possible to see how and why something may not be working, and then work with it to find a balance.
Many people from Socrates directly participated in its care, as well as people who come by and forage from the salt-tolerant plants. I hope the sculpture invites people to reflect on these waters and the speed of ecological change and on the importance of ancient human traditions that guard the relationships with water. I want us to wear these waters as the land that I inhabit, as they move through our bodies, and cycle through the sky, atmosphere, and back down to the aquaphors, the rivers, and so forth.