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For visiting artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, trash is the stuff of art

Artists don’t come much more driven or self-assured than Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who has held the title of artist in residence at the New York City Department of Sanitation since 1977. That’s right: The New York City Department of Sanitation.

Ukeles’ work has been wrapped up with the daily lives and concerns of working people since she launched her career, during which she has attempted to recast and ritualize apparently menial jobs and everyday tasks like sanitation or janitorial work as a new category of art. She will give a lecture at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (1285 Elmwood Ave.) in association with the gallery’s show “Overtime: The Art of Work,” which includes a photograph from a 1977-80 performance art project in which she systematically shook hands with some 8,500 New York City sanitation workers.

“What I’ve been trying to do all these years is take those things that have been behind the scenes, downstairs, things no one will talk about it, and pull them into the zone of things to look at,” Ukeles told the New York Observer in 2013. “I’m not just saying, ‘Oh, you poor things, you’re having such a hard time, here’s a chance to let it all hang out.’ I’m saying these are important subjects.”

The lecture is free, with more information at 882-8700 or

– Colin Dabkowski

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