Ukeles’ “Touch Sanitation”

“Thank you for keeping New York City alive.” Mierle Laderman’s project “Touch Sanitation” challenges stereotypes associated with sanitation workers by shaking the hands of over 8500 sanitation employees in a year long performance, giving gratitude to the “san-men” who help keep New York City alive. I like that she highlights the importance of maintenance in our society as we often don’t think of it as a shared concern. Maintenance as the “underbelly system” of urban society, a necessary system that keeps society functioning and people alive. Sanitation workers keep garbage and waste out of our sight and become responsible for the things that we cast off or deem waste. Garbage only becomes visible when something goes wrong: out of sight, out of mind. Hence why we pay to get rid of it and often don’t care about what happens to the garbage once it’s out of our hands. In our society, waste is something we want no part of. It made me think about our society and the fear we have of waste.

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