Through archival research, this first monographic publication focuses on Ukeles's work ballets—a series of seven grand-scale collaborative performances involving workers, trucks, barges, and hundreds of tons of recyclables and steel—which took place between 1983 and 2012 in New York, Pittsburgh, Givors, Rotterdam, and Tokamachi.
Mierle Laderman Ukeles's manifesto Maintenance Art—Proposal for an Exhibition (1969) was a major intervention in féminist performance practices and public art. The proposal argued for an intimate relationship between creative production in the public sphere and domestic labor—a relationship whose intricacies Ukeles has been unraveling ever since. In 1977, she became the unsalaried Artist-in-Residence for the New York City Department of Sanitation, a position that enables her to introduce radical public art into an urban municipal infrastructure. Over the past four decades, Ukeles has pioneered how we perceive and ultimately engage in maintenance activities. The work ballets derive from her engagement in civic operations in order to reveal how they work though monumental coordination and cooperation. Seven Work Ballets is the first monograph on Ukeles's seminal practice, and is as much an artist's book as an art-historical publication.
The work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles (born 1939 in Denver, Colorado) concerns the everyday routines of life. In 1969, following the birth of her first child, Ukeles wrote her Manifesto for Maintenance Art as a challenge to the oppositions between art and life, nature and culture, and public and private. Her work looked to highlight otherwise overlooked aspects of social production and questions, still very relevant today, the hierarchies of different forms of work, especially of housework and low-wage labour. Ukeles was interested in how artists could use the concept of transference to empower people to act as agents of change and stimulate positive community involvement toward ecological sustainability. Since 1977, Ukeles has acted as artist in residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation and realised radical public art as public culture in a system which serves and is owned by the entire population.