As the official artist-in-residence of the New York City Department of Sanitation, Mierle Laderman Ukeles has created numerous maintenance-related performances and installations throughout the course of her career. Over the past five decades, she has documented encounters with care-workers, including sanitation workers and cleaners, and has also undertaken large environmental care work.
Don’t miss your opportunity to see Mierle Laderman Ukeles at Crystal Bridges on Wednesday, August 28 from 7 to 8 p.m. at a free Spotlight Talk.
Learn more about the artist’s career below.
A formal exchange in the middle of a landfill might seem like a strange occurrence, but Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s work explores the often underappreciated laborers in society, and this contrast is exactly what makes her art important.
Touch Sanitation was a year-long project in which Ukeles met and shook hands with more than eight thousand city sanitation workers. Documenting these encounters in photographs and texts, the artist thanked each employee “for keeping New York City alive.” The photograph above can currently be seen in Nature’s Nation. Through this gesture, the artist drew attention to a crucial and neglected group of laborers and brought the art world into contact with urban ecology.
An icon in the Feminist Art movement, Ukeles sought to champion those whose roles were overlooked in society, particularly the working class and women. In 1969, Ukeles authored Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969! in which she outlined the problem of society valuing development (primarily male-led) over maintenance (primarily female-led) while realizing that maintenance takes longer and is much harder work. In her manifesto, she proposes creating, cultivating, and developing a system that enhances those in society that care for things, people, places, etc.
Through her work, Ukeles asks whether we can design modes of survival — for a thriving planet, not an entropic one – that don’t crush our personal and civic freedoms and silence the individual’s voice. Join us for a discussion on her prolific career at Crystal Bridges on Wednesday, August 28. Reserve your free ticket here!