Mierle Laderman Ukeles : The Art of Work

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][thb_image full_width=”true” alignment=”center” image=”215331″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]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.

manifesto_002Two 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:

Earth Maintenance Everyday, containers of the following kinds of refuse will be delivered to the Museum: -the contents of one sanitation truck; -a container of polluted air; -a container of polluted Hudson River; -a container of ravaged land. Manifesto For Maintenance Art, Section C. Part Three:
“Public Art With Public Workers in Public Spaces for the Whole Public” – 1979 Leaflet
In 1976 she started a multi-decade project with the NY Department of Sanitation as an un-salaried Artist in Residence. She took the concept of domestic work and brought it to an urban scale. She shook hands with 8,000 Sanitation workers one year and orchestrated sporadic acts like ‘circular sweeping’; Ceremonial, crafted, ballet-like orchestrations that raised a smile from hardened New Yorkers but they’ve also raised awareness: when the party,the revolution(or both!) is over, on Monday, who’s picking up the trash? She’s shown New York and other cities that work, duty earth and dust – can themselves all be art.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles Press Image 2

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.

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.Manifesto For Maintenance Art 1969!
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.

For further information about the upcoming events and film programme please visit our websites: www.konsthallc.se and www.marabouparken.se 

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.

Participating artists:

Mierle Laderman Ukeles (born 1939 in Denver Colorado) studied at Barnard College and Pratt Institute in NewYork. Since the 1970s, she has exhibited and performed widely, among others in C7500, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford (1973), Issue: Social Strategies by Women Artists, Institute of Contemporary Art, London (1980, both curated by Lucy Lippard), Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York (1998), WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, PS1, New York (2007–2008) and the International Armory Art Fair, New York (2007), Maintenance Art Works 1969–1980, Grazer Kunstverein (2013), Maintenance Required, The Kitchen, New York (2013, organised by the Whitney Independent Study Program), and at the 13th Istanbul Biennial.

Joanna Lombard (born 1972 in Algeria by Swedish-French parents) graduated from the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm 2010. She often works with staging situations that have an authentic background which deal with issues of identity, origin and alienation. In her films the narratives are often deliberately ambiguous and sway between the child and the adult’s perspective. Her practice explores the meanings of memories and extracted stories that were generated during her childhood in the seventies. Exhibitions Ghosts, Spies, And Grandmothers – The 8th Seoul Art Biennale, South Korea (2014), Kapitel ett Är där här. Gallery Id:I, Stockholm (2014), The Society without qualities, curated by Lars Bang Larsen Tensta Konsthall (2013).

Margaret Raspé (born in Breslau, 1933) studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich and the Academy of Arts Berlin. From 1971 to 1974 she made films with the self-developed “camera helmet” recording everyday female acts within the kitchen. Between 1978–85 Raspé produced the documentary filmAnastenaria – Feast of the Feuerlaufer of Lagadas as well as working on the project unheeded forms of pro-duction at NGBK Berlin in 1982. Since 2000 she has been working on the project Sense on the Greek Island of Karpathos inviting artists and friends on the island to contribute to the work. In 2014 the Arsenale, Berlin held an exhibition of her film works called Alle Tage wieder – let them swing! which included a display of Raspé’s materials and objects including the pioneering “camera helmet”.

Anna Sjödahl (born 1934 in Gothenburg, died 2001) studied at The University College of Arts, Crafts and Design 1953–58 and at The Royal Institute of Art 1959–1964. The work of Anna Sjödahl has been shown retrospective at Borås konstmuseum 1988 and Liljevalchs konsthall 1999 and been part of group exhibitions like Konstfeminism at amongst others Dunkers Kulturhus and Liljevalchs konsthall 2006, Hjärtat sitter till vänster at Göteborgs konstmuseum 1998, Vi arbetar för livet at Liljevalchs konsthall 1980 as well as Kvinnoliv at Lunds konsthall and Kvinnfolk at Kulturhuset in Stockholm 1974.