‘We’re Burdened by So Many Things’: Watch Artist Mary Mattingly Literally Drag Everything She Owns Around New York

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Mary Mattingly Owns Up." © Art21, Inc. 2013.

The holiday season is typically a time for loved ones to get together. But thanks to capitalism, even more than that, it’s a time to consume. Spend money, give gifts, recieve gifts, repeat.

This holiday season, though, while things are at least a little bit different for nearly everyone, it’s worth turning to photographer Mary Mattingly, who makes a pretty good case against the consumer frenzy.

In an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of the New York Close Up series from 2013, Mattingly takes viewers on an uphill climb (literally) as she carries out the Sisyphean task of dragging her belongings throughout New York.

The act is part of a project Mattingly embarked on over the course of several months, during which she painstakingly documented every object in her possession, traced its origins to manufacturing plants and supply chains, and recorded her findings on a website she created, own-it.us.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Mary Mattingly Owns Up." © Art21, Inc. 2013.

Production still from the Art21 “New York Close Up” film, “Mary Mattingly Owns Up.” © Art21, Inc. 2013.

“I want to try to picture this future without mass production,” she tells Art21. “And it’s harder and harder to do all the time.”

After taking stock of everything, Mattingly combined the objects into giant boulder-like masses secured with ropes and string, and dragged and pushed them around the city.

“Seeing your objects one at a time doesn’t have the same impact as putting them all together,” Mattingly says. “We’re just burdened with so many things. I just wanted to do something with clarity about what literally weighs me down. It also ended up being incredibly hard to push!”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series New York Close Up, below. The brand new 10th season of the show is available now at Art21.org. “Mary Mattingly: Pipelines and Permafrost” is on view at Robert Mann Gallery through December 31, 2020. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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