Reading Responses (Week 3)

Sections Assigned

  • Finkelpearl: Dialogues in Public Art: Interview with Mierle Laderman Ukeles 309-337
  • Tan: “Culture in Motion: A mobile, inflatable auditorium brings arts programming to tsunami-devasted regions of Japan.” 46-53

Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ residency at the New York Sanitation Department transcended perceptions of status and preconceived notions of artistic merit. For this reading, I had to go back further than assigned in order to gain context about the origins of her work and her original intent.

I found her work to be particularly compelling in several ways, but also lacking in others. In her “I Make Maintenance Art One Hour Every Day,” Ukeles was able to engage and transform workers’ perceptions of art and the process of maintaining systems in place. This, and her “Touch Sanitation Performance” brought visibility to the marginalized individuals making the city function. This work also elevates the conversation around maternal duties and the dichotomy of being a woman holding multiple roles.

Nonetheless, her work overlooked the larger socio-economic systems affecting the workers. Ukeles was able to use maintenance art to highlight the importance of the role of the sanitation workers, but was only able to better conditions in her life through the process. The sanitation workers she worked with, through perhaps given a new perspective on their daily labor, remain powerless in transforming their status.

The reading “Culture in Motion: A mobile inflatable auditorium brings arts programming to tsunami-devastated regions of Japan,” included several details in which I ruminated. The first was the Japanese concept of marebito or “sacred guests.” This term referred to those coming from foreign lands and the the positive attributes they incorporate into society. For many reasons, I believe it is important to learn an additional language. In the case of this example, there are words for concepts we do not have in our native tongue. Language can provide perspective and illuminate cultural connotations. Marebito reflects a willingness to learn from others and celebrate a variety of gifts in which all can benefit. What an exciting concept.

In reference to the auditorium itself, I found this project particularly interesting, as it reflects the essence of humanity in relation to the concept of providing humanitarian aid. When all is lost, do we become individuals or a collective unit?

Although I understand the two leading artists on the project are world renown, I am curious who funded this project and what channels were used to make it a financial and logistical reality.

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