Rudimentariness and artistic research


Beyond the specific project A Way of Making, I believe rudimentariness has purchase and relevance to the field of artistic research in general. I am not proposing rudimentariness as something that should be implemented, such as a methodology that will yield transparent epistemological results. Rudimentariness is rather a disposition adopted toward one’s site of investigation, acknowledging one’s own ignorance and the subject of research as a site of learning and (self) transformation. Rudimentariness generates understanding and signification, and yet it is primarily concerned with a state in which the making and perceiving subject dwells in the not yet of knowledge. Chus Martínez has claimed, ‘in searching for a concept, what we do is look for a better, more complex way to define a problem.’[1] So what then is the problem – or, perhaps, problematique – of artistic research that rudimentariness serves to address and unpack?


Significant here is the renewed interest in hands-on skills associated with artisanship and a shift to a ‘learning economy’ in the Netherlands, which overlap with Bergholtz and Pask’s ongoing research of ways of making. This shift is reflected in the numerous exhibitions in the country over the past couple of years dedicated to making and crafts, which include Making is Thinking at Witte de With, Rotterdam (2010); Hand Made – Long Live Crafts!, at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (2013), also in Rotterdam; and Threads at the Museum of Modern Art Arnhem (2014).


Of concern is how these projects reflect or deflect the more general shift toward a skills and cognition economy in the present, both abroad and here in the Netherlands. Indeed, the Dutch government has also re-evaluated hands-on skills and ongoing learning in a person's career. In a recent report published by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the author asserts that the lack of highly skilled workers was detrimental to a healthy economy, recommending that changes be implemented in the current education system to rectify the situation:


Our economy needs well-educated skilled workers, from electrical engineers to opticians, from maternity carers to game developers. People have to be flexibly employable, socially skilled, creative, and continue to learn throughout their lives, which will mean setting high standards for our vocational education [MBO] system. To increase people’s versatility, the Netherlands will have to transition from being a knowledge economy to what the Scientific Council for Government Policy [WRR] terms a ‘learning economy’.[2]


Such perspectives are behind the widespread managerial restructuring of Dutch institutions of learning. The demands of a competitive market economy have reduced education to mere groundwork for a good job, in which skill is salvation for employability. New neo-liberal funding models have been implemented, whereby public management seeks to quantify and optimise results, turning institutions of learning into factories that produce graduates on the cheap. This has drastic repercussions for what is deemed to be the core function of institutions of higher education.


Within the humanities, teaching is increasingly separated from research and replaced with staggering amounts of unaccredited bureaucratic work.[3] The NWO, which is the main source of funding for research in the Netherlands, is redirecting the function of humanities research toward a near-exclusive focus on ‘the creative industries’ and a technocratic understanding of the humanities. Sites that have long been dedicated to producing, reflecting on, and problematising existing bodies of knowledge are now being treated as excess baggage, as is evidenced in Erasmus University Rotterdam’s recent announcement that it is getting rid of its philosophy department. What do learning, knowledge production, research, and even creativity mean within this managerial logic?


That artistic research, as an emerging academic discipline in the Netherlands, is subjected to these general shifts is a matter of concern. Still, it is not the point here to reduce all forms of artistic research to the many programmes and degrees offered in institutions of higher education in this country. Artistic research is far broader, arguably encompassing research as a basic, inherent facet of all artistic production. Still, it is within the landscape of these widespread transformations to sites of research, creativity, and learning that, I believe, rudimentariness becomes useful for articulating what is at stake for artistic research more generally.


To begin with, while referring to the shift to a learning economy, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science suggested that learning is merely the adding of new information, data, or skills to what is already there. However, when something is learned, it most often entails a simultaneous process of renegotiating or unlearning what one already possessed as knowledge, perspectives, abilities, and habits of thought. Echoing the logic of chiaroscuro, Irit Rogoff states that the critical work of the theorist involves ‘operations of recognizing the limitations of one’s thought for one does not learn something new until one unlearns something old, otherwise one is simply adding information rather than rethinking a structure.’[4] The object of the skill-is-salvation model is first and foremost goal-oriented and additive. One learns managerial skills to compliment academic training. The outcome is a new set of know-how.


What rudimentariness demands, on the other hand, is that learning entails a throwing into question of what is already known. Bergholtz and Pask articulate this as an attempt ‘to (re)orient and question our (professional) habits, not so much to improve, but to explore and get a sense of what “matters” or, what brings us joy.’[5] In artistic research, the site of investigation adds weight and depth to what one is already busy with; most importantly, whether discursive or non-discursive, it adds a new perspective from which to re-engage it. Rudimentariness and its emphasis on sensate or more broadly confused thinking does not immediately lead to knowledge production. What it does gradually yield is a self-reflective standpoint onto that which one cares about and to which one is dedicated.


Within her theory on matters of care, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa discusses how the production of standpoints involves more than producing knowledge of greater accuracy. Standpoints, she claims, ‘manifest visions that have become possible’, which emerge through our interests and commitments transforming habits of thinking and seeing in the process. What is more, they have collective purchase in so far as:


Standpoints also signify attempts to add something to the world, something that, we hope, will connect to the gatherings we study and make a difference. This involves not only detecting what is there, what is given in the thing we are studying, but also to think about what is not included in it and about what this thing could become – for instance if other participants were gathered by/in it. In that sense, standpoints are not fixed, as they depend on material configurations and on our participation in (re)making them.[6]


Rudimentariness as a disposition toward an area of investigation, in so far as it refrains from using ready-made concepts and striving toward immediate epistemological results, is predisposed toward the emergence of new perspectives, perspectives that will ultimately transform what is already there, known, thought, or seen within that particular area of study or occupation. Public moments, or experiments with sharing one’s research and their emerging perspectives are crucial for the potential transformations they instigate within a larger field.


The emergence of ever-new perspectives, I would argue, is what in the present throws into relief different forms and definitions of creativity. The creative industries have come to encompass all areas of culture, emptying the notion of creativity of any nuance or real significance. The modern artistic notion of creativity based on originality and innovation has become an umbrella term that feeds this industry that thrives on the design, fabrication, and manipulation of experiences and affects. The theorist, educator, and writer Ken Robinson is among the most vociferous in rethinking what we mean and promote as creativity within this context. For him, a basic sign of creativity is a capacity to look at a problem from a wide range of angles, and likewise, to be able to open one’s inquiry up to a range of possible outcomes.[7] Rudimentariness, following Rosello, is the disposition needed to look at a familiar issue and allow what has been overlooked to become a point of interest. New points of interest, when approached and inhabited as sites of rudimentariness, raise new sets of questions and trajectories of investigation at one and the same time.


The concept of rudimentariness then sheds light on the various facets of artistic research that must be safeguarded and promoted in the present. As forcefully brought to light in the many registers of Bergholtz and Pask’s A Way of Making, artistic research often yields a productive delay of knowledge, retaining the fecund side of aesthetic encounters in the making and experience of art. Hovering between affect (proceeding without concept) and judgement (the application of a concept), rudimentariness stresses the importance of the operations of chiaroscuro in the aesthetic encounter, in which confused ideas are impregnated sites from which new perspectives and standpoints can emerge.


The powerful workings of chiaroscuro are in fact what I have become attuned to through this project over the past few years. It is worth mentioning here that I have written about A Way of Making before. Generally, my writings are organised around close readings of works; these writings tend to examine how works operate at the level of meaning making and how they negotiate existing power relations. My previous article approached A Way of Making from a feminist perspective, one that looked at gender in relation to ways of making and, by extension, labour.[8] However, as Bergholtz and Pask’s project continued to unfold, I realised – most notably during one of my visits to their show at the Cobra Museum – how jarring it was to encounter their ceramic pieces and videos, so many of which resist ready-made concepts, functions, and meanings. And yet, even while I struggled to make sense of what was presented to me, I experienced a strong desire to stay, to keep looking for and struggling with meaning.


In an attempt to avoid a purely linguistic and constructivist approach, this exposition strove to stay within the register of the not-yet of knowledge and open up what happens there. Beginning with the dialogue between Bergholtz and Pask’s individual artistic practices and their collaborative para-practice, I found myself entangled in the feedback loops between the embodied and the rational, the discursive and the non-discursive, and the transformative effects of the not-yet of knowledge on the known. I struggled in my attempt not only to use Rosello’s concept of rudimentariness as a theoretical lens onto their project but also to adopt it as the attitude through which I approached and wrote about its many facets. This endeavour allowed a slow process through which certain key concepts emerged in relation to their work, and also through which I began to formulate firmer standpoints regarding what I believe to be meaningful forms of creativity and learning in the present. Through this exposition, I became committed to the belief that now more than ever we need spaces such as artistic research to serve as ‘refuges’, in the words of the makers in clay, ‘to (re)-orient and question our (professional) habits, not so much to improve, but to explore and get a sense of what “matters”’.[9]


[1] Chus Martínez, ‘Aesthetic Consciousness’, in Experimental Aesthetics, ed. by Henk Slager (Utrecht: Metropolis M Books, 2014), pp. 10–13 (p. 10).

[2] Jet Bussemaker, ‘Clearing the Way for Workmanship: Future-Oriented Vocational Education’, Dutch Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, 2 June 2014. <> [accessed 31 December 2016].

[3] Patricia Pisters, ‘Jams, Loops and Downward Spirals in the Academic System’, in Common Knowledge: A Virtual Roundtable on the Crisis in Higher Education, May 25 2015 <> [accessed 15 February 2016].

[4] Irit Rogoff, ‘What is a Theorist?’, in The State of Art Criticism, ed. by James Elkins and Michael Newman (New York: Routledge, 2008), 97–110 (p. 99).

[5] Bergholtz and Pask, ‘Letter to the Visitor’.

[6] Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, ‘Matters of Care in Technoscience: Assembling Neglected Things’, Social Studies of Science, 41.1 (2011), 85–106 (p. 96).

[7] Alphabet, dir. by Erwin Wagenhofer (Home Run Pictures, 2013).

[8] See Anik Fournier, ‘A Way of Making: Affectual Labor and the Agency of Matter’, Senzacornice: Rivista online di arte contemporanea e critica 16 (2015) <> [accessed 15 December 2016].

[9] Bergholtz and Pask, ‘Letter to the Visitor’.