In 1969, after the birth of her first child, Ukeles wrote a Manifesto for Maintenance Artand embarked on a career that has mixed maintenance performances and public art. Initially a series of solitary performances, her washes were transformed when a man offered her rags during this performance in 1974. This gesture of generosity led Ukeles to begin to make art in collaboration with others, particularly New York City’s Department of Sanitation where she has been Artist in Residence since 1977. Her work blurs the distinctions between work and art, doing publicly what women and maintenance workers often do privately or invisibly.

For the closing of Arte Util Lab, Ukeles did a washing performance, sweeping the lab space along with Tom Finkelpearl, QMA’s Executive Director, and Richard Simmons,QMA’s Maintenance Supervisor followed by this brief talk about her work in the Arte Útil context.

Arte Útil in Spanish roughly translates as useful art, but also suggests art as a device or tool. Arte Útil imagines, creates and implements socially beneficial outcomes.

The Arte Útil Lab is the first part of a year-long investigation initiated by the artist Tania Bruguera that includes an online archive, an association of Arte Útil practitioners, an open-call, a publication, and a series of public projects and debates culminating in the transformation of a building at the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands into the Museum of Arte Útil in the fall of 2013.

Video by Adam Khalil

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