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Performance: a place of visibility for female artists?

“Cleaning is working”

Camille Paulhan


This text reflects upon performative actions by artists relevant to issues related to hygiene, cleaning and cleanliness. Addressing the work of male artists (Ben Vautier, Hi-Red Center, Joseph Beuys, Robert Filliou), as well as female artists (ORLAN, Chris Rush and Sandra Orgel, Martha Rosler, Letícia Parente), this text attempts to reveal that which differentiates cleaning seen from the female perspective and cleaning seen from the male perspective in the public eye. In order to do so, the text is supported by feminist debates—contemporary to the productions of the artists mentioned—about domestic work. However, what is most widely cited throughout this essay is the work and theoretical thinking of American artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, notably her Manifesto! Maintenance Art (1969), as well as several of her performances from the 1970s, addressing the notions of legitimacy and domination in the institutional artistic framework.


Camille Paulhan is an art historian, art critic and teacher. She completed her doctoral dissertation in 2014 on the perishable in art from the 1960s and 1970s at the Université Paris 1 — Panthéon-Sorbonne. She teaches at the École supérieure d’art Pays Basque. Her latest publications include, “‘La société se détériore’: Gustav Metzger et l’art autodestructif,” in Barde Cyril, et al. (eds.), Fin-de-siècle, fin de l’art? Destins de l’art dans les discours de la fin des XIXe et XXe siècles, conference proceedings (Paris, Presses Sorbonne nouvelle, 2018) and “Daniel Spoerri et la Eat Art Galerie,” in Csergo Julia and Desbuissons Frédérique, Le Cuisinier et l’art (Paris, Institut national d’histoire de l’art, Menu fretin, 2018).

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