Manifesto for Maintenance: A Conversation With Mierle Laderman Ukeles

BR: What kind of work had you been doing?


 

MLU: I had a very privileged education, I majored in international relations; then I went to the Pratt Institute, and got kicked out for making what they said was pornographic art, which I thought was abstract art. They were cheesecloth wrappings; I called them ‘bindings', sort of energy pods, where I stuffed them up to the point of bursting with rags. When they had hernias? That was a failure. I wanted them to be to the point of explosion, totally bursting with energy. I thought that they were like images of energy captured, only the Dean and the Chairman at Pratt thought they were pornographic, and told the teacher that I was ‘oversexed', and he had to stop me from doing them. I mean they looked more like organs than ...


BR: Than sexual organs ...

MLU: I think they looked more like digestive organs [laughing] I thought they were abstract. I didn't know what the hell these people were talking about. I was shocked, and my teacher Robert Richenberg was very supportive. And that is when they got hysterical, he ended up getting fired, I thought the whole school would march out because of academic freedom/ That lasted about fifteen minutes, then everybody wanted to keep their jobs, and keep their whatever, and the whole thing died away. Another experience, earlier, when I was a senior at Barnard, the President used to rant at us, "You can do anything, you can be anything!" And I believed her. I was this sap for freedom talk. This was the Sixties, the time of the civil rights movement; this is what was in the air, the notion that the world could be reinvented so that people were free, that it belonged to everybody. I mean, I didn't make this stuff up.

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