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LABOUR PORTRAITS

'Expanded notions of women’s work in the world' is how J. Morgan Puett describes the various artistic residencies and fellowships that take place on the 96 acre site in rural Pennsylvania that is Mildred’s Lane. Mildred’s Lane is an ongoing experiment conceived by American artists J. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion in 1997. Her own creative career is diverse, ranging from the fashion industry in the 1990s to installation art, environmental design and today to Mildred’s Lane, where life and art are literally inseparable.



Gendered roles and any sense of hierarchy within hospitality – from cook or groundskeeper, to provisions for warmth and comfort – are all upturned at The Mildred Complex(ity). As Puett explains, 'through the lens of hospitality we must relearn and drop old habits.' The providers of comfort, nourishment, and the home – and the labour this involves – are no longer assumed or fixed identities. Instead a visitor plays as much a role in delivering hospitality as they may enjoying its receipt. The language of the entire endeavour is particular; events are ‘swarmings’ or ‘entanglements’.

Vocabulary becomes a way to challenge entrenched assumptions about care, but also forms a particular aesthetic and creative style that governs the project. Conventional 'art' is, as the name exposes, edited out. Instead the rambling site and its outposts in the local community are governed by a desire that 'every project has to be functional. No plop art,' Puett explains categorically.



The Labour Portaits is a photographic series that documents the various roles and contributions – literal and allegorical – at Mildred’s Lane. A Digestion Choreographer oversees nourishment; the Ministry of Comfort deals with all things sleep and rest related. But the series also includes the more obscure. The Minister of Serial Materialism (the sitter is in fact the photographer of the series Jeffrey Jenkins) alludes to the compulsion for collecting shared by many of the individuals who gravitate to Mildred’s Lane...

To read this article by Jessica Hemmings in full, order your copy of Selvedge issue 69 here.

Photography by Jeffrey Jenkins.



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