Maintenance and Care

A working guide to the repair of rust, dust, cracks, and corrupted code in our cities, our homes, and our social relations.

What we really need to study is how the world gets put back together. I’m not talking about the election of new officials or the release of new technologies, but rather the everyday work of maintenance, caretaking, and repair. Steven Jackson’s now-classic essay “Rethinking Repair,” written in the before-time — way back in 2014 — proposes that we “take erosion, breakdown, and decay, rather than novelty, growth, and progress, as our starting points” in considering relations between society and technology. His sober exercise in “broken world thinking” is matched with “deep wonder and appreciation for the ongoing activities by which stability … is maintained, the subtle arts of repair by which rich and robust lives are sustained against the weight of centrifugal odds.” 2

In many academic disciplines and professional practices — architecture, urban studies, labor history, development economics, and the information sciences, just to name a few — maintenance has taken on new resonance as a theoretical framework, an ethos, a methodology, and a political cause. This is an exciting area of inquiry precisely because the lines between scholarship and practice are blurred. To study maintenance is itself an act of maintenance. To fill in the gaps in this literature, to draw connections among different disciplines, is an act of repair or, simply, of taking care — connecting threads, mending holes, amplifying quiet voices. Shannon Mattern, Places Journal, November 2018

Mierle Laderman Ukeles

Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Touch Sanitation Performance, 1979-1980 Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Touch Sanitation Performance, 1979-1980. Image from artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles (born 1939, Denver, Colorado) is a New York City-based artist known for her feminist and service-oriented artwork, which relates the idea of process in conceptual art to domestic and civic “maintenance”. She is the Artist-in-Residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation and creates art that brings to life the very essence of any urban center: waste flows, recycling, sustainability, environment, people, and ecology.

Here are all the notes in this garden, along with their links, visualized as a graph.