The Waterpod

There's a new floating gallery in town. Hop on board for art, lectures and DIY endeavors.

On a balmy Saturday afternoon in late May, a consortium of genial, tattooed artists were preparing for a life aquatic. “It’s one big experiment,” said Mary Mattingly of her home for the next four months, over the piercing screech of splitting metal. Mattingly, 30, a Long Island City artist, is a soon-to-be resident of the Waterpod, a multipurpose floating eco-habitat and interactive installation.

When we visit, it’s being assembled inside the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but from Monday 8 until September 29, it will dock at various NYC ports of call, beginning with the South Street Seaport’s Pier 17. Mattingly and three other local artists—Alison Ward, 37, Mira Hunter, 30, and Eve K. Tremblay, 36—will move into the structure, which will also function as a public space for multimedia art shows produced by the residents and other contributors, tutorials on sustainable living and a host of other cultural programming. Mattingly describes it as “ an off-the-grid type project inside the grid.”

Upcoming events include ongoing botany workshops by artist-scientist Carissa Carman, Tremblay’s recitation of passages from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and a series of enviro-science lectures.

Mattingly conceived of the Waterpod while ruminating on a dystopian future. “In 40 years we’ll have significant sea-level rise,” she says. “Our future will be defined, in part, by climate refugees, and the Waterpod will function as a platform for dialogue.” In keeping with those ideas, the pod has been designed to run on solar, wind and human power; visitors will be invited to pedal one of four onboard bicycles, which recharge the pod’s three batteries.

Built atop a refabricated 99' x 31' construction barge, the Waterpod is about as DIY as it gets: Living units have been constructed from found or donated materials. Most of the food will be produced onboard; the garden will grow beets, potatoes, corn, raspberry bushes and a variety of greens, and eggs will be available from the six birds in the chicken coop, which also provide fertilizer. All water is acquired through a rainwater-catch system, and bathroom facilities include a dry-compost toilet and a solar-heated shower. One thing the Waterpod is not, however, is an exercise in Survivor-style schadenfreude. “It will be quite civilized,” promises Ward, a sculptor who fronts the psychedelic rock band the Ruffian Arms. “We’ll eat with utensils.” Ward took us on a tour of the work-in-progress, admiring its futuristic design. “The Waterpod is utilitarian, but it’s also about creating a space that’s beautiful.”

The Waterpod team hopes that the project—funded entirely by donations and constructed and staffed by volunteers—will inspire others. “We want people to feel a sense of empowerment when they see this, and a sense of, Oh my gosh, this is not so complicated,” says executive director John McGarvey, 48. All the details of the structure and the technology used onboard is available in open-source documents on the Waterpod’s website. “We’re getting back to the land, but we’re doing it in a very urban way,” says Ward. “I’m hoping that people will come away with a new vision of how they can live in a place like New York City.”

ALL ABOARD! The Waterpod: Mon 8--Sept 29. Tue--Thu 8am--4pm; Fri--Sun 11am--7pm, free. Visit thewaterpod.org for a full docking schedule.

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