Notes on “Blazing Epiphany: Maintenance Art Manifesto 1969! An Interview with Mierle Laderman Ukeles”

The following notes were taken while reading Blazing Epiphany: Maintenance Art Manifesto 1969! An Interview with Mierle Laderman Ukeles.

The interview cited in this short article was made with Ukeles on the fiftieth anniversary of her seminal Maintenance Art Manifesto (1969). In the interview, Ukeles cites Jackson Pollock, Marcel Duchamp and Mark Rothko as major influences, and observes that as these artists were all men, “how they were supported in the world was something you never talked about; you focused on their genius”. The artists notes that “heroes didn’t change diapers”, and explains that after she and her husband had a baby, she “had a great crisis”, as she tried to effectively divide her life between parenting and art-making.

Ukeles found that it was difficult to focus on making art while performing the important maintenance work of becoming a good parent, explaining that:

I wanted to take care of this baby, not just so she’s not sick, or mildly taken care of, but robust. And if you take really good care of them, you enable that to happen“.

Ukeles describes her “blazing epiphany” when she realized that “if the artist is the boss” then she could “choose maintenance” and “name maintenance ‘art'”.

In terms of the city, Ukeles describes maintenance as “what a city traditionally does: clean the streets, pick up the garbage, put out the fire, fix the potholes”.

Ukeles goes on to describe her early works that documented the maintenance work of parenting – which constituted a recategorizing of that work as “art”. This initial focus on “home” or domestic maintenance then developed into works which addressed aspects of “institutional”, then “city” and finally “earth” maintenance, reflecting the artist’s expansive take on the subject.

Ukeles’ notion of maintenance-as-art – and her recategorization of maintenance from “low” to “high” culture – really interest me, and I wonder if I can find some way of further exploring “maintenance” in my research into “the studio”, or into work/sites in general.

The maintenance work of running a studio, or of maintaining a domestic working space, would be interesting to contrast with the amount of time which is spent actually making “art” in those places. Research activity in this regard could follow the general outline sketched in my previous “Studio Diary” research idea.

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