In 1969, Mierle Laderman Ukeles was frustrated. The new mother, whose time was increasingly taken over by childcare and housework, felt she had lost the freedom to make her art. Realising that her artistic uncles Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko and her grandfather Marcel Duchamp never changed diapers, she authored her Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969! My working will be the work, she wrote. Through the force of re-naming, and then doing, she would convert the repetitive, thankless labor of housework into artor “Maintenance Art,” as she called it.
Ukeles (who is now the subject of a retrospective at the Queens Museum) outlined two interdependent systems of labour in her manifesto. The first, Development, is characterized by individual creation, progress and freedom; it is the work of the avant-garde in its purest sense. The second system is Maintenance, which cares for the new, cleans up after the old and preserves individual creation. One cannot exist without the other, as she noted..