Thursday, September 11, 2008

For 9-11:

Mierle Laderman Ukeles' Maintenance Art Manifesto

A. 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.

B. Two basic systems: Development and Maintenance. The sourball of every revolution: after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?

Development: pure individual creation; the new; change; progress; advance; excitement; flight or fleeing.

Maintenance: keep the dust off the pure individual creation; preserve the new; sustain the change; protect progress; defend and prolong the advance; renew the excitement; repeat the flight; show your work—show it again
keep the contemporaryartmuseum groovy
keep the home fires burning

Development systems are partial feedback systems with major room for change.
Maintenance systems are direct feedback systems with little room for alteration.

C. Maintenance is a drag; it takes all the fucking time (lit.) The mind boggles and chafes at the boredom.

The culture confers lousy status on maintenance jobs = minimum wages, housewives = no pay.
clean you desk, wash the dishes, clean the floor, wash your clothes, wash your toes, change the baby’s diaper, finish the report, correct the typos, mend the fence, keep the customer happy, throw out the stinking garbage, watch out don’t put things in your nose, what shall I wear, I have no sox, pay your bills, don’t litter, save string, wash your hair, change the sheets, go to the store, I’m out of perfume, say it again—he doesn’t understand, seal it again—it leaks, go to work, this art is dusty, clear the table, call him again, flush the toilet, stay young.

D. Art: Everything I say is Art is Art. Everything I do is Art is Art. “We have no Art, we try to do everything well.” (Balinese saying).

Avant-garde art, which claims utter development, is infected by strains of maintenance ideas, maintenance activities, and maintenance materials.
Conceptual & Process art, especially, claim pure development and change, yet employ almost purely maintenance processes.

E. The exhibition of Maintenance Art, “CARE,” would zero in on pure maintenance, exhibit it as contemporary art, and yield, by utter opposition, clarity of issues.


Three parts: Personal, General, and Earth Maintenance.

A. Part One: Personal 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. I will live in the museum and I customarily do at home with
my husband and my baby, for the duration of the exhibition. (Right? or if you don’t want me around at night I would come in every day) and do all these things as public Art activities: I will sweep and wax the floors, dust everything, wash the walls (i.e. “floor paintings, dust works, soap-sculpture, wall-paintings”) cook, invite people to eat, make agglomerations and dispositions of all functional refuse.

The exhibition area might look “empty” of art, but it will be maintained in full public view.


B. Part Two: General

Everyone does a hell of a lot of noodling maintenance work. The general part of the exhibition would consist of interviews of two kinds.

1. Previous individual interviews, typed and exhibited. Interviewees come from, say, 50 different classes and kinds of occupations that run a gamut from maintenance “man,” maid, sanitation “man,” mail “man,” union “man,” construction worker, librarian, grocerystore “man,” nurse, doctor, teacher, museum director, baseball player, sales”man,” child, criminal,
bank president, mayor, moviestar, artist, etc., about:”

-what you think maintenance is;

-how you feel about spending whatever parts of your life you spend on maintenance activities;
-what is the relationship between maintenance and freedom;
-what is the relationship between maintenance and life’s dreams.

2. Interview Room—for spectators at the Exhibition:

A room of desks and chairs where professional (?) interviewers will interview the spectators at the exhibition along same questions as typed interviews. The responses should be personal.

These interviews are taped and replayed throughout the exhibition area.

C. Part Three: 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.

Once at the exhibition, each container will be serviced: purified, de-polluted, rehabilitated, recycled, and conserved by various technical (and / or pseudo-technical) procedures either by myself or scientists. These servicing procedures are repeated throughout the duration of the


Why do I have this up for 9-11? Because of this article I saw in The Village Voice shortly after we moved to Queens in 2002:

Two days after 9-11, the Fresh Kills landfill reopened to take in the wreckage from the World Trade Center. "That was very, very shocking to me," says artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, whose six-channel video piece about the former dump—Penetration and Transparency: Morphed—is currently running at Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island.

She remembers thinking she'd been misinformed: "The city would never do that. They would never mingle human remains in a place where they put garbage; that would collapse a taboo in our whole culture. That crosses a line." But no other site was big enough; no other so secure. Ultimately, about 175 of the landfill's 2200 acres were given over to sifting through the hundreds of thousands of tons from Ground Zero, no doubt some of it human ash. This added a layer of tragedy to a site that was already contested, fragile, enormous, resented, and political.

Ukeles has been the sanitation department's unpaid artist-in-residence since 1977. She's devoted her entire career to thinking about garbage, recycling, ecology, and the endless invisible labor involved in keeping things clean. In 1989, the Department of Cultural Affairs gave Ukeles a commission, making her the official artist of Fresh Kills. She'll now participate in its transformation, working with whatever design team wins the international competition.

More by Ukeles here. Recent interview can be read here.

A great commentary on her Touch Sanitation, in which she made it a point to personally shake hands with everybody working for NYC Sanitation and thank them for "keeping New York alive" can be found here.

No comments: