After the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?

Today I have been studying the extraordinary work on ordinary life by the American artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles. I am especially interested in how she presents her own invention Maintenance Art as a feminine antagonism to the male dominated Avant-garde. 

Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Washing/Tracks/Maintenance, 1973.

She argues that the two, Maintenance Art and Avant-garde follow two very different paths through life. This is how she defines it: The Death Instinct and the Life Instinct

  • The Death Instinct: separation; individuality; Avant-Garde par excellence; to follow one’s own path to death—do your own thing; dynamic change.
  • The Life Instinct: unification; the eternal return; the perpetuation and MAINTENANCE of the species; survival systems and operations; equilibrium.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Washing/Tracks/Maintenance, 1973.

Ukeles work present us to some very existential questions, like:
- How do we value different kind of work in our society?
- Which are the most important tasks to be taken care of?

Here she is in her own words:

  • I am a Maintenance Artist
  • I use my ’artistic freedom’ to call maintenance ‘art’
  • Part of the time I do private maintenance (at home taking care of my family)
  • Part of the time I do public maintenance (in museums and galleries) to show people my ideas
  • 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 maintenance everyday things, and flush them up to consciousness, exhibit them, as Art.
Andrea Liss has written a good & thorough text on Ukeles – which can be found here
If you like to read Ukeles in her own words, go here: MANIFESTO FOR MAINTENANCE ART, 1969