Tohu Podcast: A Conversation with Mierle Laderman Ukeles
In this Tohu Podcast, David Duvshani meets performance and social practice art pioneer Mierle Laderman Ukeles in Jerusalem for a conversation following her move to Jerusalem and her latest retrospective exhibition at the Queens Museum in New York. They talk about manifestos, authenticity, collaboration, art education, women artists, labor organization, life in Jerusalem, and the state of the political Left in the US and in Israel/Palestine.
Mierle Laderman Ukeles (b. 1939) is an American artist, a pioneer of performance, feminist, and environmental art. Ukeles, who is known mainly for her Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969!, focuses her work on the tedious acts of maintenance, preservation, and cleaning, shining a spotlight on the connection between gender and labor. The world depends on these repetitive acts, performed mostly by women and poorly-paid laborers, but they remain invisible to society.
The Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969! comprises two parts. In the first one, "Ideas," Ukeles presents her world view and her thoughts regarding the imbalance between the time and resources consumed by maintenance and the negative way it is treated by society. The second part is structured as a proposal for an exhibition titled "Care." The manifest was written in 1969, after the birth of Ukeles’s daughter. As she relates in this conversation, it has to do with a crisis she had undergone when she realized that daily chores and caring for her baby took up all of her time, leaving no room for art, unlike past artists, whom she idolized – men who never had to struggle with these issues.
The second part of the manifest is the proposal for "Care," originally intended to be mounted in a museum space (today's Met Breuer). The exhibition, which has never been produced, was supposed to extend over three floors, each dedicated to a different idea. The first part is the personal: an empty floor, in which the artist cleans and performs various daily chores related to maintenance. The second part is the “General”: a space for conducting interviews with professional maintenance workers, and another for similar interviews with visitors to the exhibition. The third part is global maintenance: on this floor, containers of garbage and contaminated air and water would be brought in daily. These would undergo a cleansing and purification process, and then sent back.
From 1977 until today, Mierle has been Artist in Residence at the sanitation department in New York City. In another famous work, Touch Sanitation, from 1979, Ukeles personally met all 8500 workers of the maintenance and cleaning services of the New York municipality, saying to each of them: "Thank you for keeping the city alive." In 2013, she moved to Jerusalem and had been dividing her time between Israel and the United States.
Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969!: