Mierle Laderman Ukeles

1939, USA ; lives and works in New York and Tel Aviv


“(…) after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?”, wrote Mierle Laderman Ukeles in 1969 in her “Manifesto for Maintenance Art”. In it she referred to the invisible work of those men and women who keep streets, museums and homes clean, and pinpointed the hierarchies of values which contrast maintenance with actions involving development and innovation (usually entrusted to men). Presenting herself as a woman, mother, and artist, as it so happens, in the midst of these issues, M.L. Ukeles undertook the task of turning maintenance tasks into an art running counter to the avant-garde questions which were then exercising art circles.
M.L. Ukeles thus embarked on a series of actions including Washing (1974), in which she specifically decreed that a street corner would be cleared and washed at a precise time. That action was claimed to be an artistic performance, one which still exists today in the form of a photographic work and a protocol establishing links between feminism, value creation systems, and ecological issues.
In 1979, M.L. Ukeles wrote a letter to New York’s sanitation workers. While she listed all the difficulties involved in their profession, the artist set forth a major project titled Touch Sanitation (1977-1980). The action and the series of photographs resulting from it were organized around the hand, a hand which deals with garbage day in day out, and throws it out, and which M.L. Ukeles would extend to the 8,500 garbage collectors she met, as a sign of consideration. In tandem, she produced a series of maps of the city, Touch Sanitation Performance: 10 Sweeps Maps (1980) in which the colored lines symbolize the routes of the garbage trucks which she tries to follow during the 11-month undertaking. The circuits made retain memories of her action at the same time as they reveal systems of invisible logic for managing the waste which fills the urban space. 

Touch Sanitation, 1977–80/2017

Frac Bretagne

30 archival photographs,10 pages telex, enlarged brochure, text

Courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York


Touch Sanitation Performance: 10 Sweeps Maps, 1980

Frac Bretagne

Marker on printed Sanitation maps

Courtesy of the artist and Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York


Washing, 1974

in front of the A.I.R gallery on Wooster Street in Soho, New York

Frac Bretagne

17 black and white photographs, text

Courtesy of the artist and Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York