Member Spotlight – Mierle Laderman Ukeles

This week we recognize the work of artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles. In 1969, Ukeles wrote Maintenance Art Manifesto 1969! Proposal for an exhibition, “CARE,” a manifesto in which she examined her position as an artist and mother. She sought to challenge the domestic role of women by reframing herself as a “maintenance artist,” including household activities that keep things going, such as cooking, cleaning and child-rearing. The manifesto also addressed “general” or public maintenance (cleaning a building, or a street) and earth maintenance, such as addressing polluted waters. Her exhibitions and performances were and are intended to bring awareness to the low social status of maintenance work.

Since 1977, when Ukeles became the official, unsalaried Artist-in-Residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation, she has created art that deals with the endless maintenance and service work that “keeps the city alive,” urban waste flows, recycling, ecology, urban sustainability and our power to transform degraded land and water into healthy inhabitable public places.

Ukeles asks whether we can design modes of survival — for a thriving planet, not an entropic one – that don’t crush our personal and civic freedom and silence the individual’s voice.

Touch Sanitation is one of Ukeles’ most ambitious early projects and a milestone in the history of performance art. Taking almost a year, Ukeles met over 8500 employees of the New York Sanitation Department, shaking hands with each of them and saying, “Thank you for keeping New York City alive.” She documented her activities on a map, meticulously recording her conversations with the workers. Ukeles documented the workers’ private stories in an attempt to change some of the negative words used in the public sphere of society, using her art as an agent of change to challenge conventional stereotypes.

This 20 cubic-yard garbage truck (above) faced with hand-tempered mirror is The Social Mirror, which was included in Ukeles’ retrospective at the Queens Museum in 2016-2017. It first debuted at the grand finale of the NYC Art Parade in 1983, and later was exhibited at the 2007 Armory Show. According to Ukeles, “This project allowed citizens to see themselves linked with the handlers of their waste.”

Ceremonial Arch (below), also included in Ukeles’ retrospective, was comprised of 5,000 used, signed work gloves from workers at New York’s Fire, Police, Sanitation, Environmental Protection, Parks, Cultural Affairs and Transportation Departments, as well as the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The arch was topped with a canopy of tools used by ConEd workers, placed over six sturdy columns. Ukeles stated, “I put the gloves at the entrance as if to bless everyone for the sacrifice of their lives.”

Mierle Laderman Ukeles is a feminist artist known for her service-oriented artworks, which relate the idea of process in conceptual art to domestic and civic “maintenance.” She has been the official, unsalaried artist-in-residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation since 1977 (HON 2019). Among her key works not mentioned above include Snow Workers’ BalletEchigo TsumariUnburning Freedom Hall; and LANDING at Freshkills Park (in process). She has exhibited internationally including the Whitney Museum of American Art, MoMA PS1, Istanbul Biennial, Manifesta 10, among many other important venues and is the permanent collections of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Art Institute of Chicago (promised gift), and the Jewish Museum, New York, and many other important art institutions. Ukeles received a B.A. in international relations from Barnard College in 1961 and an M.A. in interrelated arts from New York University in 1973.  She is currently based in New York and Israel. feldmangallery.com/artist-home/mierle-laderman-ukeles.com

Featured Images: Above, ©Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Wash: Washing, Tracks, Maintenance — Outside and Inside, July 22, 1973,Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut; Artist-in-Residence, New York City Department of Sanitation since 1977; Touch Sanitation Performance, 1979-80, New York City; The Social Mirror, 4th iteration since 1983 at Queens Museum, 2016-2017;Ceremonial Arch Honoring Service Workers IV, 1988-2016 including 5000 gloves of maintenance workers at retrospective, Queens Museum, 2016-2017; below, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Dusting a Baffle, from Private Performances of Personal Maintenance as Art, 1970, Photograph Jack Ukeles.

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ecoartspace was conceived in 1997 by Patricia Watts in Los Angeles. In 1999, Watts partnered with east coast curator Amy Lipton, operating as a nonprofit under the umbrella of SEE, the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs in California. 2019 marked twenty years that Watts and Lipton have curated art and ecology programs, participating on panels and giving lectures internationally. Combined, they have curated over sixty art and ecology exhibitions, many outdoors in collaboration with artists creating site-specific works. They have worked with over one thousand artists from across the United States, and some internationally. Starting 2020, ecoartspace became an LLC membership organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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