Notes on Ukeles’ original “Manifesto for Maintenance Art” (1969)

Following my previous notes on an interview with Mierle Laderman Ukeles, these notes were taken while reading the artist’s original 1969 Manifesto for Maintenance Art.

Opening her manifesto, Ukeles separated the “death instinct” from the “life instinct”, the death instinct being a drive toward “separation”, “individuality”, “dynamic change” and “the avant-garde”; while the life instinct is manifested in “perpetuation and maintenance”, “survival systems and operations”, and “equilibrium”.

These two instincts are manifested as two “basic systems”: “development” and “maintenance”. Development systems afford “major room for change”, while maintenance systems offer “little room for alteration”.

Ukeles list a selection of domestic/parenting-related maintenance tasks:

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“.

In the following section, Ukeles asserts that “Everything I say is Art is Art. Everything I do is Art is Art”.

The next paragraphs outline the artist’s proposal for an exhibition that would highlight and display – as art – the routine tasks undertaken by herself and other maintenance workers.

As mentioned in my previous post, I do feel that there is some potential in examining the studio and/vs. the domestic worksite in the terms outlined by Ukeles here, perhaps using the “studio diary” approach or through conducting further interviews / studio visits with other artists, as an extension of the work undertaken as part of my previous WORKSITE project.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *