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Heavy Load: Washing Dirty Laundry in Public 2016

Photo and video credit David Ashford


Edited by Deborah Wasserman

Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens, New York 

Deborah Wasserman’s performance, Heavy Load: Washing Soiled Laundry in Public, spins the drudgery of

everyday laundry as a metaphor for women’s role in today’s patriarchal society. Highlighting the otherwise invisible labor

of mothers, caretakers, and domestic help, which bears the brunt of society’s mud, her performance raises questions about

class, labor, gender, modernity, and privilege.

Wasserman speaks about the process of washing away stained and distressed fabrics not only as a physical task but also

a cleansing ritual, discharging one’s feelings of being ‘stained’. Exposing dirty laundry to light brings out feelings of

shame and guilt which are often hidden and folded away. The artist seeks to point to the transformational power of women

who, when in the position of being domestic laborers, often bring compassion to their work and in doing so, cultivate a

more humanitarian society.

Taking the idea of hard work to an extreme, and referencing other cultures where laundry is always washed by hand, the

artist will challenge her own physical endurance by carrying heavy bags of soiled clothing, lugging water back forth and

scrubbing piles of garments and house linens.

Utilizing the geography of Socrates Park to create a site-specific performance, the artist

performs a cycle of washing, drying and folding. The washed clothes are spread on the grass and in trees to dry naturally

in the sun. The cycle repeats in another location of the park, a four-hour slice of the eternal cleaning that is part

of women's motherly and domestic duties throughout the world.

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