Mary Mattingly at Socrates Sculpture Park

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday July 27, 2023

Ebb of a Spring Tide  by Mary Mattingly explores our relationship to coastal ecosystems and the shifting nature of rivers and water lines. The work features a 65-foot living sculpture titled Water Clock, which was fabricated on-site in response to the Park’s unique waterfront location along the East River. This monumental, scaffold structure, which includes edible vegetation, mirrors the cityscape across the East River, highlighting the human impact on New York City’s riparian zone. The clock’s pulse is kept by water from the East River moving through tubes on the structure, a reminder of a life support system and the delicate balance of coastal ecosystems.

The artist recently spoke about how she came to create this work, and invites visitors to forage its salt-water-tolerant vegetation for use in their own kitchens.

Ebb of a Spring Tide is about my last apartment unit, [which] 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 [in my building]. Which I also quickly learned leaked from the roof 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 my dream, the canoe was right there, but I couldn’t use it because it was 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. All photos © Scott Lynch for Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park, 32-01 Vernon Boulevard, Long Island City, NY Info

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday July 26, 2023

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday July 20, 2023

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday July 19, 2023

Older Posts