Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Mierle Laderman Ukeles is someone who I think isn't recognized nearly enough for the revolutionary nature of her thinking and practice. Her Manifesto for Maintenance Art is a principled challenge to the traditional romantic (and traditionally male) notion of the artist as creator of something new. Her determination to assert the creative validity and necessity of the regular, repetitive acts of all those who keep things from falling apart, breaking down, or overflowing is an important contribution to the expansion of what an artist's role in the world can be. I think it's particularly compelling that she has found a way to extend the creative potential of her thinking, beyond the earlier activist performances, through a fruitful 40 year long collaboration with the NY Department of Sanitation as their first and continuing Artist in Residence. A recent interview from Art in America captures a bit of her formidable intelligence and sharp wit.


  1. The sanitation project is awesome. Hear her speak as part of the Portland State Monday night lecture series, here:

  2. The excerpt below made me think of a recent TED talk I watched from Naomi Klein called Addicted to Risk,

    "This is 1968, there was no valuing of ‘maintenance' in Western Culture. The trajectory was: make something new, always move forward. Capitalism is like that. The people who were taking care and keeping the wheels of society turning were mute, and I didn't like it! I felt when I was watching Richard Serra do these very simple things like throwing the lead, or Judd building things -- the language of Process Art and Minimalism, which I felt very in tune with -- I felt like "what are they doing?" They are lifting industrial processes and forgetting about the whole culture that they come out of. So Serra was this steel worker without the work, without the workers. And Judd was this carpenter without workers. They didn't have workers, they didn't have people, they had objects -- or they had results. And I felt that they were falling into the same trap as the rest of this damn culture, which couldn't see the whole structures or cultures of workers that made the kind of work that invented these processes and refined them."
    - Manifesto for Maintenance: A Conversation With Mierle Laderman Ukeles
    by bartholomew, ryan

  3. My favorite part of the manifesto is the Balinese saying she quotes: "We have no Art, we try to do everything well." The dilemma of getting around some of these dilemmas seems to ultimately be linguistic.