After the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?

Today I have been studying the extraordinary work on ordinary life by the American artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles. I am especially interested in how she presents her own invention Maintenance Art as a feminine antagonism to the male dominated Avant-garde. 

Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Washing/Tracks/Maintenance, 1973.

She argues that the two, Maintenance Art and Avant-garde follow two very different paths through life. This is how she defines it: The Death Instinct and the Life Instinct

  • The Death Instinct: separation; individuality; Avant-Garde par excellence; to follow one’s own path to death—do your own thing; dynamic change.
  • The Life Instinct: unification; the eternal return; the perpetuation and MAINTENANCE of the species; survival systems and operations; equilibrium.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Washing/Tracks/Maintenance, 1973.

Ukeles work present us to some very existential questions, like:
– How do we value different kind of work in our society?
– Which are the most important tasks to be taken care of?

Here she is in her own words:

  • I am a Maintenance Artist
  • I use my ’artistic freedom’ to call maintenance ‘art’
  • Part of the time I do private maintenance (at home taking care of my family)
  • Part of the time I do public maintenance (in museums and galleries) to show people my ideas
  • I am an artist. I am a woman. I am a wife. I am a mother. (Random order).
  • I do a hell of a lot of washing, cleaning, cooking, renewing, supporting, preserving, etc. Also, (up to now separately) I “do” Art.
  • Now, I will simply do these maintenance everyday things, and flush them up to consciousness, exhibit them, as Art.
Andrea Liss has written a good & thorough text on Ukeles – which can be found here
If you like to read Ukeles in her own words, go here: MANIFESTO FOR MAINTENANCE ART, 1969

8 thoughts on “After the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?

  1. Without a doubt, your blog is the most unique that I follow. I can honestly say that I wait for your posts; today’s is so illustrative of what makes your blog so fascinating. While I am seriously lacking in appreciation of Maintenance Art–frankly, I didn’t know it existed–your cogent prose peaks my interest, as always. Andrea Liss’ article is excellent; I’m off to read Ukeles’ manifesto. Thanks so much for being such a bright light.
    Karen

    1. Dear Karen, what can I say?! Your kind words makes me speechless, but also really-really happy.
      I love the format of the blog, the combination of something very personal that is still open for the world to see and to comment upon. I love how the blogging-community makes it possible for me to get in contact with people all over the world, and how we can share the strangest thoughts and ideas in a world without borders. I do also very much enjoy the practical side of blogging; playing around with words and images, as if I were scribbling in a sketchbook.
      And I am truly happy if this scribbling every now and then can make some sense to you as well!

  2. Sigrun, Thank you for this wonderful introduction to Mierle Laderman Ukeles. I was not aware of her work until now. I know many women who are artists, mothers, spouses, daughters, etc. who will be intrigued by her ideas. I’m looking forward to exploring the links you posted and to writing about Ukeles for Gwarlingo. (I’ll be sure to give you credit for the lead!) It’s always a pleasure to read your posts. Thanks!

    1. Great, I love this kind of rhizomatic growth!

      Strange, really, that Ukeles work from the -70s and -80s still feels very important and contemporary. When reading about her work I suddenly became aware of the possibility of defining her work as Relational Art (- much prior to the invention of the concept Relational Aesthetics).

  3. This artist was new to me too. I seem to be seeing a lot about the 60’s and 70’s (and 80’s?) just recently – a lot of ideas initiated then are still relevant today. Have just seen Yayoi Kusama at the Tate Gallery who is still very productive but was important in the 60’s and whose work was more thought provoking than I expected.

  4. Thank you for mentioning Yayoi Kusama at Tate, hopefully I will get to see her exhibition …She is a very strange and unusual artist (even when taken into consideration that strangeness is a typical and wanted quality in this field), isn’t she?

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