It’s difficult to think of Mierle Laderman Ukeles art and not think of work. You can see themes in her work: independence, feminism, activism, worker’s rights and ecology, but it is her cherishing of the art of work, that has defined her.
The place, the setting, the context of almost all art is created and maintained by many workers, mostly unseen and often underpaid. It is these people and their repetitive tasks that Ukeles has taken and highlighted. The tasks, and the people, the workers and the conditions of that work.
Maintenance Art Manifesto
In her Maintenance Art Manifesto from 1969 she defines a number of Ideas; In Section I, B she writes:
Development systems are partial feedback systems with major room for change. Maintenance systems are direct feedback systems with little room for alteration.
Two distinct systems but two that are inextricably linked. Her thesis is that it’s not only the creation of art that is valid as an art-form, but is the work within the ecosystem of the gallery or the context city equally valid as art, or as culture? She presents us with a dichroic conundrum: a fêted artist can create and install, but every day the gallery trash cans are emptied, the doors opened and the steps that carry the eager and the keen are washed, perhaps by hand. There is sweat and toil, in the work. Is that work also culture? In a 2013 Observer.com piece, M.H. Miller referred to Ukeles speaking with museum staff, and assuring the museum staff that their daily, repetitive tasks were indeed culture.
Since I first became aware of her work and thesis I’ve wondered though is that manual, repetitive maintenance work in fact part of a the art on display? In a gallery is the toil of the many an intrinsic part of many works, at the same time? Ukeles referred to systems; does a gallery represent a dual system, a parallel presentation of art?
Manifesto For Maintenance Art 1969!
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 everyday things, and flush them up to consciousness, exhibit them, as Art.
Her desire was to bring awareness to the low cultural value attributed to maintenance work paying badly, or no payment at all in the case of housewives, but in 1969 she also attributed value to broader maintenance work:
Exhibition : 7 February–26 April 2015
A collaboration between Marabouparken konsthall and Konsthall C looks at how Ukeles work is categorised, how labour is viewed and valued and the relationship between art working and house working through two former sites of work: a chocolate factory and a community laundry. Where Marabouparken konsthall connects to a history of formalised work and paid workforces, Konsthall C bares the features of domestic unwaged work. These distinct contexts provide a compelling site to build a meaningful conversation with the work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles and concurrent practices that address the sphere of maintenance work.
Maintenance Art Works 1969–1980
The presentation of this work across Marabouparken konsthall and Konsthall C highlights Ukeles movement from the home to the realm of the public. Marabouparken konsthall will exhibit Ukeles’ early work reflecting on the seminal performances of cleaning actions within her home expanding a critique to the art institution. Konsthall C will present the later long-term project Touch Sanitation (1977–1980) a project involving Ukeles’ residency at the New York Department of Sanitation and a performance in which she dedicated herself to thank and shake hands with every Maintenance worker in New York City.
Exhibition details & press release
From Her House
From Her House continues this enquiry through a presentation of key works at Marabouparken konsthall by Swedish artist Anna Sjödahl and German artist Margaret Raspé; contemporaries of Ukeles. Both producing work dealing with the relationship between home working and art working and the gendered division of labour. This accompanying exhibition provides key coordinates for understanding how feminist art practices were cultivated during this period. At Konsthall C artist Joanna Lombard presents new work in which the artist draws on her struggle to breast feed her first child. Produced over 30 years after Ukeles, Sjödahl and Raspé, Lombards’s work is a salient reminder of the shared challenges faced by mother’s and the need to continually address them.
Point of Interest
Konsthall C, Farsta, Sweden : konsthallc.se : Tel: +46 8 604 77 08
Beginning with a survey of Mierle Laderman Ukeles and her significant examination ofMaintenance Art Work between 1969–1980 the exhibitions and events programme delve into expanded artistic examinations of the home, domestic (maintenance) work and the gendered division of labour; asking how these radical practices can prove relevant today. The accompanying film programme will be shown at Marabouparken konsthall and offers weekly reflections on feminist struggles battled in the everyday. Two showreels of artists film and video work punctuate the programme which include a number of work from the Cinenova collection, dedicated to distributing films and videos made by women.
Programme Launch at cinema Zita
The film and events programme launches at the cinema Zita on February 10th at 8pm and is shown in collaboration with Film i Samtidskonsten (FIS).
Book launch by Mierle Laderman Ukeles
On the 24 of March Mierle Laderman Ukeles will be visiting and launching her very first publication entitled Seven Work Ballets. It focuses on her ongoing series of ballet work performances, which activate socio-urban choreographies of workers, trucks, barges, and hundreds of tons of recyclables in cities across the globe. Edited by Kari Conte, this publication is co-published by Kunstverein Amsterdam, Grazer Kunstverein and Sternberg Press in collaboration with Arnolfini, Bristol, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane and Marabouparken konsthall, Sundbyberg.
The exhibition is organised in collaboration with the Grazer Kunstverein and curated by Krist Gruijthuijsen, director of the Grazer Kunstverein, Austria. From Her House is curated by Bettina Pehrsson, Marabouparken konsthall, and Jenny Richards, Konsthall C, in collaboration with Marina Vishmidt.