WetLand Art Installation Provokes Thoughts of A Watery Future


What will our coastal cities look like if the water rises as forecasted by climate change scientists?  How would urbanites adapt and change their lifestyle?

Shortly after hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey and New York in 2012, Brooklyn-based installation artist Mary Mattingly began to ponder these questions.  The result was an other worldly houseboat called WetLand, built from recycled materials by Mattingly and some fellow artists.

WetLand  is now moored alongside a pier near the Philadelphia Seaport Museum on the Delaware River as a part of that city’s 2014 Fringe Arts Festival.  It  is part interactive public art installation, part urban farm and dwelling place.  When I stopped by last Sunday to give a reading from Hives in the City, I was shown around by Mattingly herself and introduced to several artists in residence and volunteers.

Mary Mattingly lifted up the burlap flap to show me where the bee hive was installed in the side of her boat.

Mary Mattingly lifted up the burlap flap to show me where the bee hive was installed in the side of her boat.

Mattingly will live on WetLand for six weeks, hosting tours, performances, workshops, skill shares, and artistic gatherings.

One feature that seems to grab everyone’s attention immediately as they enter the boat is the bee hive, placed in one of the boat’s windows.  Watching the bees work their frames is a bit like seeing a stained glass window come to life.  The bees, which are protected from direct sun by a piece of burlap hanging outside, are one of two hives at WetLand.  There’s another full size Langstroth-style hive as well floating in the gardens, painted pink and purple.

After my reading, I sat next to the hive for a couple of hours, chatting with the artists on board and helping to explain the bees’ comings and goings to visitors.  It was really fun and I found it hard to leave because visitors were so enthusiastic and had so many great bee stories to share.

Three people are currently bunking in the upstairs deck in small pod-shaped rooms Mattingly constructed.  There’s a little library, and while I was there someone also dropped off a composting toilet, soon to be installed onboard for the use of these temporary residents. (That part did not seem fun, and I was glad it was still in the box, unused, by the time I left.)

Mattingly also has installed several floating gardens full of flowers and vegetables.  I was delighted to have a lot of visiting kids tell me that’s where the bees were going to get food.


Mattingly would love to have the entire boat be self-sustaining, but space constraints are tight. So instead they grew a few small crops as demonstrations of what can be done on the water.  There were a lot of pepper plants full of fruit on Sunday.  Also, a big fat hen came out from a floating chicken house and walked around an enclosed coop which floats next to the main boat and its living quarters. I kept wondering if the motion of the water made the chicken lay more eggs.

Inside the boat quarters are tight.  Here, a small fridge is being loaded with a few food essentials.

Inside the boat quarters are tight. Here, a small fridge is being loaded with a few food essentials.




Rather than being an example of how people could realistically live on the water one day, I found that the boat became a kind of environmental salon.  People climbed on boat and wanted to talk about bees, climate change, compost, chickens, and ending food deserts in the city.  They talked about art and vertical farming, and solar panels like the ones Mattingly and her crew use to power their appliances.  People were into it; they seemed to leave inspired by the entire experience.  Many asked if they could apply to live there too.






WetLand's Langstroth hive floats beside the main boat.

WetLand’s Langstroth hive floats beside the main boat.



If you have a chance, stop by and check it out for yourself.  There are special events ongoing (full schedule here).

Also  be aware that the boat will be closed to visitors on Wednesday Sept 17,2014 for cleaning.

For more information visit:

You can also read a blog post I was asked to write for the Fringe Fest about urban bees here.


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