By way of introductions
For the last few years I have been captivated by and closely following an art project called A Way of Making. The two makers behind this project are performance artist Maria Pask and curator Frédérique Bergholtz, both of whom live and work in Amsterdam. The two practitioners are well recognised in their respective fields. Pask’s work is informed by feminist and collaborative models from the sixties and seventies, participatory processes that result in performances and video installations. Her artworks have been presented internationally, including at Skulptur Projekte Münster, Modern Art Oxford, and Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam. Frédérique Bergholtz is the co-founder and director of If I Can’t Dance I Don’t Want to be Part of your Revolution, a curatorial platform for performance art based in Amsterdam. The ambulant organisation has a strong feminist orientation, departing from a spirit of open questioning and long-term enquiry into artistic practices that serve as the focal point for new commissions and elaborate thematic programming. IICD operates with partner institutions abroad including in Spain, Canada, the United States, Brazil, and Egypt.
In 2012, amid their respective tracks of what had become a daily grind of scheduling, grant applications, travel, and artistic production, they felt compelled once a week to claim time out. From within the quiet and intimate setting of Iet Kortschot’s pottery atelier in Amsterdam, they began to explore the material possibilities and histories of ceramics. What started as a leisurely pastime and shared common interest in ceramics quickly became a practice in its own right, a para-practice that over time yielded new fuel and insights into ways of making art and exhibitions.
At this point, the project has come to encompass a vast quantity of ceramics, two video installations, a growing personal research archive on the history of ceramics across periods and geographic locations, and two exhibitions. The first exhibition was at Ellen de Bruijne Projects in Amsterdam in 2013, and the second was part of the commemoration of Asger Jorn’s legacy at the Cobra Museum, Amsterdam, in 2014. The artists also undertook a residency in Den Helder in 2015, where, in addition to a more intense period of production, they invited a small group of colleagues and friends to share a day of embodied experiences of making pottery and doing yoga.
In what follows, I investigate the occurrence of turning to a basic form of making, here the hands-on encounter with the materiality of clay, as an instance of artistic research. Artistic research often refers to a discursive or scientific investigation that informs an artistic practice or to an ongoing investigation within an existing practice. What interests me in this case is how the research is carried out in a parallel-site of investigation, one that is largely embodied. This project is an empirical investigation of a medium and, as complete amateurs to the medium, an investigation of the various possibilities of ‘making’ with it. This form of artistic research therefore tackles the rudiments or basics of what the artists are already doing, but from an empirical perspective.
I am trained as an academic with a background in art history. Throughout my studies, I also worked closely with artists and artworks in various institutions and curatorial projects. Yet it was only during my doctoral studies at the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis, where I learned how to perform close readings of works, that I became consciously aware of how my thoughts were often confronted, troubled, and reoriented by objects. In other words, I became aware of the intimate relation between the empirical, or observation, and thought. I now teach in an art academy where we emphasise the dialogue between making and thinking and where forms of research are conceived as being an inherent part of any artistic practice. That said, being able to articulate how thinking and making relate, or to qualify certain forms of research, thinking, and knowledge that are specific to artistic practices, remains for me an ongoing site of investigation, one that gains new insights and turns with the many practices I encounter as a teacher, writer, and curator.
A Way of Making came to play a key role for me in this investigation because I was able to closely observe and even partake in its many facets as it unfolded over a span of several years: namely in informal discussions with the artists, who are also friends, as a visitor to their exhibitions, and as a participant in one of their workshops. In thinking through this project, eventually the concept of rudimentariness, as defined by Mireille Rosello in the field of comparative literature, emerged as a lens that would help me open up the specificities of the project. Gradually other important concepts, such as sensate thinking, touch, and movement, began to assemble around this key concept like pieces of a puzzle.
Gradually, too, I realised that thinking through this project sharpened my understanding of and commitment to meaningful forms of creativity and learning. Currently, both creativity and learning have become umbrella terms for policy shifts underlying new economies. Within this context, both terms are largely associated with the new. What I find striking in A Way of Making is the makers’ commitment to using their parallel practice to transform what is already there, both materially and in terms of what is already known. Through these reflections, the exposition therefore attempts to move beyond the specificities of this project to articulate what is at stake in the present for artistic research more generally.