Mierle Laderman Ukeles The Art of Repair

Art Critique Feb 25, 2019

In 1969, in her the Manifesto for Maintenance Art, the artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles wrote, “The sourball of every revolution: after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?”

The manifesto was rooted in her experience as a mother, and balancing the work of childcare with her work as a visual artist—until one day she realized that her maternal labor, though lacking a physical object, could also be filed under the category of “art.” In her landmark performance art piece, Touch Sanitation, Ukeles shook the hands of over 8500 sanitation works across New York City and thanked them for “keeping New York City alive.” The performance honored a form of labor that, while crucial, is often dismissed and invisible (much like the work of motherhood itself.) It called attention to the ongoing work that keeps societies healthy and functioning and yet is not often perceived with the rarified attention we normally reserve for the aesthetic.

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