Mierle Laderman Ukeles
Re-spect, art, the city, care

Investigation by Julien Zerbone


Sometimes we come across an artist whose work, when we see it for the first time, makes us wonder how we could have missed them. An artist offering insightful responses to questions we can barely formulate. Through her integration of care, institutional critique, the essentials of conceptual art, ecology, and feminism, and in her reflections on and alongside the working class, Mierle Laderman Ukeles is one such artist. Of the very few projects she created outside the USA, only one was made in France: a piece entitled Re-spect, a Work Ballet – an outdoor ballet involving public service employees and their trucks—created in 1993 in Givors, a small industrial city on the banks of the Rhone between Lyon and Saint-Étienne. Following a succinct overview of some of her projects, I would like to retrace the genesis, context and process behind this particular piece.

[ 1 ]

Quoted in French in “Après la révolution, qui descendra les poubelles?”, Vacarme, #57, autumn 2011, pp. 82-94, from an unpublished interview originally in English by Bénédicte Ramade.

[ 2 ]

Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969, cited in Jack Burnham, “Problems of Criticism,” Artforum, January 1971; reprinted by Gregory Battcock, (ed.) IDEA ART, New York, NY: Dutton, 1973; and Lucy R. Lippard, (ed.), Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object, New York, NY: Prager, 1973.

[ 3 ]

More on this subject in works by Nancy Fraser, notably Qu’est-ce que la justice sociale ? Reconnaissance et redistribution, La Découverte, Paris, 2011, 178 p.

[ 4 ]

Bénédicte Ramade, op. cit.

[ 5 ]

Alain Charre, Jacques Gleizal, Christian Ruby, Jacky Vieux, “L’institut pour l’art et la ville”, Cahiers, p.2.

[ 6 ]


[ 7 ]

Alain Charre, “RN 86, l’art, la ville, la route, Cahiers de l’Institut pour l’Art et la Ville” #5, Maison du Rhône, Givors, fourth quarter 1993, p.4.

[ 8 ]

In this case, Muntadas, Rémi Zaugg, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles are asked to create something in 1993, and Catherine Baugrand, Simon Patterson and Michel Desvigne in spring 1994.

[ 9 ]

“Les travaux de l’institut”, Cahiers de l’Institut pour l’Art et la Ville, #7, Maison du Rhône, Givors, fourth quarter 1994, p.42.

[ 10 ]

Thomas Finkerpearl (This text was originally a conference given to the « Institut pour l’art et la ville » in 1993). Translation by Amanda Crabtree.

[ 11 ]

Ibid, p.28.

[ 12 ]

The BSN group, which specializes in glass, is at the origin of the global food giant Danone, for which the Givors glass plant produced yogurt jars at the time.

[ 13 ]

Kari Conte (ed.), Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Seven Work Ballets, Kunstverein Publishing, Grazer Kunsteverein, Sternberg Press, 2015, p.125.

[ 14 ]

Ibid, p.126.

[ 15 ]

There exists one visual documentation of the parade: Alain Charre, Jacky Vieux, L’art, la ville, la route : Re-spect, Institut pour l’art et la ville, Givors, 1993, VHS, 22 min.

“After the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage?” Standing at the crossroads of our era’s current issues—urbanism, ecology and feminism—Ukeles makes a precious contribution to how we perceive and analyze the activities of maintenance and repair, especially with regard to their social, symbolic and political impacts. Her process comes from a long-term commitment…

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