Meet P.3 Artist | Mary Ellen Carroll

"We live in a political epoch: everything is about politics and policy. So I'm literally using policy as a material, in sort of the same way a painter uses paint."-Mary Ellen Carroll, Art in America, August 21, 2013

Carroll, Mary Ellen | Drawing of the nodes for a mesh network in conjunction with the Super WiFi towers and connectivity in New Orleans for Public Utility 2.0. | Courtesy the Artist

Mary Ellen Carroll’s practice engages a range of disciplines from art to architecture, public policy, writing, performance, and film to technology. Yet the foundation of her work gauges a single, fundamental question: what do we consider a work of art and what is a material? (See Carroll’s opus, prototype 180, a ten-year conceptual work of art and urban alteration)

For Prospect.3: Notes for Now, Mary Ellen Carroll has undertaken a project entitled Public Utility 2.0.  Carroll developed the idea during a visit to Tremé, where the artist identified the historic neighborhood as an under-resourced zone for Wifi connectivity.  Additionally, hovering over the city of New Orleans, the I-10 elevated highway splits culturally vital areas, such as Tremé. When the interstate was built in 1964 in a plan inspired by the Robert Moses trend of inserting highways through metropolitan centers, I-10 physically divided historically Créole and African American communities and culturally vital centers including Tremé and the Seventh Ward, in effect destroying local business districts and rupturing familial ties, some which dated back to the colonial period. Like so many communities affected by the intrusion, Tremé continues to endure the aftereffects today. In terms of public utility, this neighborhood receives little to no broadband connectivity, as operators are unwilling to provide services, such as Wi-Fi access, to areas in which they  are perceived as unprofitable. For Public Utility 2.0, Carroll is adapting a working model developed by Rice University's Wireless Network Group for a project called Technology for All, to create a solution to make not just Wi-Fi, but Super Wi-Fi, a service that travels further and penetrates walls better than the traditional 2.4 gigahertz Wi-Fi, accessible to the parts of New Orleans where these services are most needed. According to the artist, “Public Utility 2.0 goes beyond being an artwork for a temporary biennial or permanent infrastructure planning. It's also to make the public aware that unused spectrum is a national resource. Offering Super Wi-Fi as a model and program that's highly visible is meant to affect public policy and to make it a part of a public dialogue of how our national resources are actually used. In an art context, it is analogous to a work of land art, but with the digital real estate of the 21st century—frequencies." Mary Ellen Carroll, Architizer, March 24, 2014.

Documentation about Public Utility 2.0 will also be present at the AIA New Orleans Center for Design.

Carroll, Mary Ellen | (L) Drawing of the Super WiFi Towers connecting over the active informal amphitheater created by I-10 in the 7th Ward in New Orleans (R) Drawing of a Second Line and a High School Female Band Member who propositionally will be the recipients of the two main Super WiFi nodes | Courtesy the Artist

Carroll is the recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Graham Foundation Fellowship for prototype 180 (2010) and the AIA’s Artist of the Year Award. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pollock/Krasner Award, a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship and a MacDowell Colony Fellowship. She also received an award for the Pennies from Heaven Fund for her contribution to the city of New York for her socially visionary work. Her work has been exhibited at numerous American and international galleries, including the Whitney Museum-New York, Generali Foundation-Vienna, Austria, Jacobs Museum-Zurich, Switzerland, ICA Philadelphia, the Renaissance Society-Chicago, ICA-London, Museum für Völkerkunde-Munich, MOMUK-Vienna.

A monograph of her work published by SteidlMACK received the AIGA’s 2010 Book of the Year Award. Carroll was commissioned to realize Open Outcry that is a part of FEAST at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago. She completed, No. 18 an architectural insertion and commission for the Busan Biennial in Korea that was directed by Roger Buergel, artistic director for Documenta 12.  The artist recently completed a new commission for the exhibition Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art at the Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston. Her work will be included in the American Pavilion for the 2014 Venice Biennale for Architecture as well as a new commission on knowledge and storage at the ACC in Weimar, Germany.

Written by Social Media Co-Director Danni Shen