making matters

a vocabulary for collective arts

Janneke Wesseling & Florian Cramer

The world today faces overwhelming ecological and social problems and the concern for material existence on earth is more pressing than ever. When looking at the field of art and design, this means that research into our relation to the world around us and the actual making of things has acquired a new urgency.The term ‘art’ is used here in its broadest sense, encompassing visual art, design, performance art, new media practices and other artistic disciplines. Making Matters asks what role visual artists and designers can play under these conditions. The book gathers a number of relevant making practices and investigates the urgency from which they arise.

One of the main departure points of Making Matters is the realization that collective action is necessary and inevitable, in society at large as well as in the field of the arts. Collective art and design practices therefore are the main focus of this book. They point to a transformation of working methods that not only shapes and changes practices but also affects artists and designers in their position and identity: from individuality and autonomy to experimental collectivity and collaboration, locally
as well as globally.

A new perspective on ‘making’ becomes apparent here. When practices shift towards collaborative making processes instead of individual products, what does ‘making’ and the production of concrete, material ‘things’ mean? Artists collaborate with non-artists and in doing so may take on other identities, such as researcher, community activist, computer hacker, or business consultant. The research done by these artists departs from the most diverse areas, from logistics and biotechnology to geology or dance. As a result, the distinction between art, design, research, and activism is dissolving. It follows that these practices may hardly be recognizable as art or design practices any longer, nor are their outcomes necessarily identifiable as artistic outcomes, let alone as specific art works. Some of these practices no longer conform to a conventional Western idea of art and art making. This book aims to identify some of their key concepts and to make their vocabularies accessible to a larger public.

The practices brought together in this book address specific ecological and social problems, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly. All of them embrace the complexity of the various crises that we find ourselves in and try to develop ways of dealing with them. They experiment with and embody examples of new ways of living together and of
a sustainable existence on Earth with all living beings.

Material artistic practices, i.e., ways of concrete making and doing, often go hand-in-hand with
a theoretical inquiry. The textual and visual contributions in this book embody this intertwinement of conceptual and material thinking. The authors share an interest in artistic research, a relatively newly institutionalized research field that connects doing and thinking, making and theorizing, in a reciprocal exchange that does not prioritize one over the other. In artistic research, practical action (making) and theoretical reflection (thinking) go together, action and thought are inextricably linked.

Art contests the age-old dichotomy of theory and practice. Since Modernism, it has involved a constant questioning of the role of art and artist. The practices presented in this book put these questions on the table once more. They exemplify the attempt to bridge the distance between theory and practice, or even (in some cases) to obliterate the distinction between art production, critical reflection, and everyday life.  

The roles of artist, curator, institution (museum, Kunsthalle, artist-run spaces, biennial, documenta) and audience may become fused in the production of art.

This development raises fundamental questions
of authorship and of the status quo of the art object and process: where is it situated and how can it be perceived or experienced? The materialization of art, its aesthetic dimension, its ‘aesthetic—felt, spatio-temporal—dimension’,Peter Osborne, Anywhere of Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art (London and New York: Verso, 2013), p. 48. is acquiring new meaning and importance. In the light of the pressing challenges that we are facing on a global scale, and in the light of the critical and discursive potential of contemporary art practice, ‘making’ matters more than ever before.

how, on what ground, have the contributions
to this book been selected?

Artists collectives are at the centre of attention
in contemporary art discourse.For the 2021 Turner Prize only artist collectives were nominated: Array Collective, Black Obsidian Sound System, Cooking Sections, Gentle/Radical and Project Art Works. The 15th edition of the world’s leading contemporary art exhibition documenta (2022) will bring the contemporary art phenomenon of multidisciplinary collectives to a wider audience. Not only are its curators, the Indonesian ruangrupa collective, such a collective themselves; most artists invited to documenta 15 are multidisciplinary collectives, too.

This book aims to contribute to the growing body
of literature on the phenomenon of the art collective in its present-day, multidisciplinary, and hybrid form.
It aims to provide insight into the subject matter of these collective multidisciplinary practices. Most contributors are practitioners whose work falls in
the cracks between the disciplines of art, design, critical theory, research, performance, community organization, social activism, and critical engagement with technology. Even when their work is grounded in one of those disciplines, it usually encompasses at least two others. In the end, these practices and the texts in this book complicate the following questions: What is research when it is done by artists? What is ‘making’ when it is informed by critical theory and turned into activism? What is ‘technology’ when it is articulated by performance artists and in community projects? What happens when their implicit concepts, definitions, and vocabularies, which differ from mainstream understandings of those same concepts, are explicated in a specific vocabulary?

The project began with a four-year research project by our material practices workgroup into the possibility of a crossover between art, design, and technology as an alternative to the capitalist-driven concept of the ‘creative industries’ consortium.
It ended with the observation that alternative crossovers exist in the often overlooked and often overlapping fields of artistic research, artists’ and designers’ experiments with commons, Open Source culture, post-humanism and biopolitics, alternative economies, and community organization. Artists do not simply depict or reflect upon these varying perspectives from a critical distance, but radically translate them into their everyday ways of living and working, in other words, into material practices. This book aims to explicate tacit knowledge from artists’ material practices and from real-life experiments conducted in a world in crisis while gaining insight into present-day paradigm shifts in the arts.

The different disciplinary groundings of our contributors correspond to the respective disciplinary groundings and research specializations within the material practices workgroup: Leiden University, Willem de Kooning Academy, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Waag, West Den Haag. Based on the expertise and the discussions in the workgroup, contributors were invited who could help to both focus and complicate the question of how artists practices and real-life experiments amount to knowledge for ways of living and survival in the planetary crisis.

reading guide

The vocabulary of concepts relating to collective material art practices presented here is not an encyclopaedia nor even an inventory and it is by no means complete. It may be regarded as a thought experiment, aimed at stimulating further debate and new vocabularies.

The entries are categorized under seven headings, laid out in alphabetical order: bodies, collective, critique, economy, making, matter, and undisciplined. In some cases, entries refer to connected entries.
The order of reading is not linear. You are invited to read the entries in any given order.


collective bodies

Klaas Kuitenbrouwer

Photo: Patricia de Ruijter –


Starting a Zoöp is to declare a new collective body.
It is laying out a new, shared skin. This is the first act in zoönomy, a practice of fostering ecological integrity for groups consisting of radically different, human, and other-than-human bodies that find themselves joined together in this new type of community.

A Zoöp is an effort to claim a shared reality among highly divergent bodies. To call them a collective body is partly a trick, a move to direct attention. It is partly hopeful aspiration and partly something that was found to be part of the idea of ‘body’ all along.

Zoöps consist of wide varieties of bodies: other-than-human bodies such as microbes and earthworms, trees, plants and algae, water bodies and more; human artefacts such as buildings, machines, and such; organizational bodies such as teams, boards, associations; legal bodies such as owners, third parties with contracts, municipalities, jurisdictions. Clearly, all these bodies are by themselves collective bodies, too, even when they nominally join the Zoöp as single entities.

To start a Zoöp is thus to articulate a new collective body by saying: you now belong together in a new way. This is the trick. This collection of collective bodies now has to find out how to live together. That is the aspiration.

Any non-abstract, materially existing body is not a singular thing anyway. A singular point only exists as a mathematical construct and abstraction. Any actual dot in any world is never a point but a body and, by that virtue, also some kind of multiplicity—it has an outside and therefore an inside.

All collective bodies are networks and part of networks, connected to myriads of other bodies. Many bodies are members of multiple collectives at the same time. Therefore, the boundary of any collective body is not fixed. A collective body’s shared skin needs to be enacted, performed,Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007). for a specific purpose and context, and once it has been recognized (or resampled symbolically) by other collective bodies, it will be more sharply defined. It will shimmer into place. New bodies join all the time, and some bodies leave. Performing such a shared skin is the ongoing effort of every Zoöp.

To do the work of the skin is to metabolize particularities of the world and also to put up some resistance—on behalf of the body—to being metabolized. A degree of metabolization is necessary for a body to exist, to be present, but to be metabolized entirely is to cease to exist.Extrapolated from Elizabeth Povinelli, Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016).

The constituents of a collective body remain intact bodies. They still have their own skins—a bit thinner at some places, maybe.

The Umwelt or life-worldJakob von Uexküll, A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans: With a Theory of Meaning (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), originally published in German: Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen (Berlijn: Verlag von Julius Springer, 1934). of any body is that which can be metabolized: chemically, aesthetically, conceptually, politically, economically. Different bodies, different rules, different chemistry.


Femke Snelting

Embeddedness: a triple d word with tentacles in geology, surfacing every trouble possible from dependency to duress. There is nothing simple about this term: embeddedness means to be attentive to multiple inter-operating spacetimes, to resonate with what is below as well as with what is above and delà, to resist extraction, and to account for remote implications.This contribution is based on the script for a performative introduction to the sub-vault of the Bidston Observatory Artistic Research Centre (BOARC) for participants of the work session Down Dwars Delà, organized by Constant and BOARC, Liverpool, August 2021,

In assembling ideas that are seemingly disconnected and uneven (the seabird and the epilogue, the song and the soil, the punch clock and the ecosystem, the streetlight
and the kick-on-beat), the logic
of knowing-to-prove is unsustainable because incongruity appears to be
offering atypical thinking.
Yet curiosity thrives.Katherine McKitttrick, Dear Science and Other Stories (Durham: Duke University Press, 2021), p. 4.

to be set solidly into a mass

Ship merchants operating from the Liverpool docks in the nineteenth century needed the tides predicted and their clocks calibrated, so they commissioned the Bidston Observatory. The observatory was to be strategically situated on the highest point of the Wirral peninsula, overlooking the river Mersey, the river Dee, and the Irish sea. Completed in 1866, it was made out of sandstone extracted from the bedrock below, creating a cavity which now forms the observatories’ extensive basements.The Bidston Observatory was built on the solid bedrock of the Wirral peninsula, ‘a capping of Keuper sandstone on soft Upper Bunter’, which was considered to be more stable than other geological arrangements elsewhere. Joyce Scoffield, Bidston Observatory: The Place and the People (Merseyside: Countyvise Ltd, 2006). Around the building, a deep moat was dug to minimize interference from neighbouring traffic. The plinth in the picture (p. 30) is a ‘bedrock connection point’, located in the observatory sub-vault. Sheltered from temperature shifts and movements from elsewhere, the plinth provided a stable platform for a century of exacting earth observation.

Cornwall, last fall. Suddenly they feel the ground tremble, and hear windows rattle. Afterwards, Dr. Ryan Law, managing director of Geothermal Engineering explains to the local press:

As part of the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power testing, we did cause some micro-seismicity. Although this was within our regulatory limits,

we are stopping operations until we understand the cause. The tremors are low-scale and should not be anything to be afraid of.Sabi Phagura, ‘Houses shake as Cornwall is rocked by FIFTEEN “earthquakes” measuring up to 1.5 in magnitude in two days caused by tests at geothermal drilling site’, Daily Mail, 1 October 2020,

Geothermal energy is produced by harnessing heat from the earth’s core. To produce power from this heat, extremely deep wells need to be drilled and water is pumped through them at high pressure. Since the Bronze age, Cornwall has been mined for tin, copper, arsenic, and lithium. Tremors in the porous underground are set off as a result of the additional disturbance caused by geothermal boring. In the non-committal words of the general manager, they sense all the troubles that wreck the earth: ‘we caused micro-seismicity’ ... ‘within our regulatory limits’ ... ‘until we understand the cause’ ... ‘not anything to be afraid of’.

© Kym Ward (2022).

laying in a bed of surrounding matter

South or north of here, already more than ten years ago. It takes him many long days to level the driveway of his holiday home. Using a barre à mine, a forged iron bar originally used by miners to pound the ground and break the surface, his movements reverberate through the valley. Eventually, he hits an immovable piece of rock and the pounding stops. He points, almost proudly, and says: ‘look, the earth!’  

Early on, the observatory installed a seismometer on the sub-vault plinth. Kept in the dark, it continuously auto-registered slight movements on light sensitive paper that corresponded with earthquakes experienced on the other side of the planet. A Milne-Shaw Vertical Tiltmeter was acquired in 1910, a precision instrument based on the same principle as the seismograph, where one part remains stationary and fixed, while another part moves together with the earth’s surface. The vertical tiltmeter derives its precision from using a rigid arm that points upwards, with a pendulum hanging down from it. The swinging of the pendulum, with its fulcrum fixed to the bedrock connection point, makes micro-seismicity observable by magnifying the actual motion of the earth. It was with this instrument that the phenomena of ‘tidal load’ could be observed, the oscillating north-south tilt of the Wirral peninsula due to the strain of the water weighing down the bedrock (and subsequently, the plinth itself) at high tide.

A physiotherapist once told me about her interest in how bodies feel their way around with the help of instruments. She explained her fascination through the example of cooking a soup or a sauce. If you stir the bottom with a wooden spoon, she said, you will feel precisely at which moment it starts to catch. You do not need to put your hand into the hot liquid to touch the bottom of the pan.

At the observatory, the so-called ‘ocean loading effect’ continued to be registered with increased precision until the early seventies, when the expanding data about earth tides from around the world started to show unexplained discrepancies in neighbouring sites; the magnitude of the north-south tilt varied by twenty percent when measured in one end of its sub-vault, or the other. In an article called ‘Tidal Tilt Anomalies’, two scientists working at Bidston claimed that these inconsistencies could be explained by unknowable couplings between the landmass movement and the strain on the site itself. ‘A mine or a tunnel, in which tilt measurements are usually taken, represents a discontinuity in the Earth’s crust.’T.F. Baker and G.W. Lennon, ‘Tidal Tilt Anomalies’, Nature 243 (1973), pp. 75–76. By comparing different types of instruments, they found that tiltmeters were extremely accurate but that they were measuring tidal tilt in combination with hyper local movements due to situated geological conditions. Tidal tilt observations where eventually abandoned due to non-compliant embedded data.

trembling with the earth

As with many material evidences of techno-scientific progress, the appointing of stability, the fixing of a point zero wherever convenient, seems to require an entitled mode of being in the world.

Each point is merely a conceptual marker, which can be assigned and reassigned in the equation hierarchy as the ‘coordinating zero point’ and every line can be formed to be the ‘coordinating axis’.Clancy Wilmott, Mobile Mapping Space: Cartography and the Digital (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020).

Power arranges itself around such arbitrary vantage points, through which the movement of goods and people elsewhere can be controlled. Contributing to the reliable navigation of ships across the British empire, but also actively and continuously supporting the convenient fable of transparent observation, the Bidston Observatory aligned with different scales of capitalist endeavour, exploitation, colonialist and imperialist modes of worlding.‘The Center is Open/HECS is ajar!’,

He is being driven around his native island Martinique, pointing out the places that he grew up in and that vanished after the earthquakes. The island is part of an archipelago located on the crumbling intersection of two tectonic plates, which makes the geo-plasticity of the earth regularly interact with human activity. ‘We understand the world better if we tremble with it’, he explains.Manthia Diawara, ‘One World in Relation: Édouard Glissant in Conversation with Manthia Diawara’, NKA Journal of Contemporary African Art 28 (Spring 2011), pp. 4–19.

To be embedded depends politically nor epistemologically on a fixed locus of observation. It opposes systematic thinking without fear, because it is a mode of understanding the world that resonates with the multidimensional and multidirectional impact of being embedded, of its inherent instability. Embeddedness is to ‘tremble with the world’.

The image cuts back to the view from the car window, an undulating green landscape moving by under a bright blue sky filled with clouds. He continues:

The world trembles in every way. It trembles organically and geologically. It trembles even with the climate, poor me, as far
as I know. But the world also trembles through the relations
we have with each other.Ibid.


artificial friendship

Lilia Mestre

Dear you,

How are you? Here is an excerpt of a letter I wrote during the first confinement, April 2020 when I was invited by Roselle Pineda / PCI to give a talk about curatorial approaches in time of halting and transformation. I would like to share this with you because I’m interested in what you think about it.

My practice as a curator consists of creating a correspondence between several artistic researchers through a combination of presentations and writing practice. We address each other not directly as in a normal feedback activity, but with the delay of the letter, the delay of reflecting on what a critical response could be and how we want to formulate it, with which language.

The delay of the letter produces criticality as a modality of care. I’m holding on to you, while responding to your work. I carry you with me. I think through you. You change me. I’m totally in love with the idea that a critical world is a world of change. An inclusive environment of transformation.

I call for artificial friendship.

This concept is a paradox, a provocation, and an attempt to give attention to how to engage with concerns, people and materialities that are not ours and might not seem interesting at first view because they don’t address us directly.

I call for artificial friendship, and here you are. I open up the potential of friendship with you to be able to make myself available to write to you. I’ve been thinking about the concept of artificial friendship after creating scores (see scoring) as an infrastructure for encounter in which I could observe and experiment with a relational shift in the approach to others. A mode of relation that is based on taking seriously, and accepting as a valuable companion in life, that what doesn’t correspond directly to my understanding of the world. To take into consideration not the symbiotic but intra-dependent relationships, the close and the far at the same time. The known and the unknown and the in-between.

I call for artificial friendship as a form of dedication to the unknown. A form of care for the ones we don’t know. Dear stranger, how are you? How do you feel? What do you do?

I’ve been asking myself; how can friendship and artificiality be partners towards an infrastructure of care for the other. Paradoxical at first instance, both these concepts, if allied, can create the conditions for a sociability of commitment, dedication, attention, patience, and inclusion. I have been working with scores, in their artificiality, to set a series of scheduled moments in time and space with clear constraints, where one can perform what friendship does, and even become art[ificial] friends, without there having to be a friendship in the first place.

This is an invitation to spend time together. To meet in a place that offers availability and the moment of being present to each other. The sort of agreement one can commit to when visiting a friend. I would like to propose that we think thoroughly about this when we think about curatorial and performing approaches. About spaces and conditions that introduce forms of attendance that are not consumeristic but involve the vulnerability of coming together, as a form of care for the other. A form of care for a complex societal ecosystem that can embrace change.

If you’d like to get back to me you can reach me at

Looking forwards to reading from you.



Frans-Willem Korsten

Criticality has been defined first and foremost within Marxist and post-structuralist frames, as an attitude and a praxis that aims to scrutinize and dismantle the dichotomies and hierarchies set up by ruling powers. Whereas these frames were philosophically inclined, other forms of criticality were more practical. Often as a mix of both, distinct approaches were developed under the heading of, for instance, ‘critical pedagogy’, ‘critical geography’, or critical making. The following case offers different modalities of the term. The case concerns a public primary school, located close to a train station in Utrecht, a major city in the Netherlands. This had been the school’s location since 1883. Children from lower and middle social classes had attended it, from a distinctly multicultural populace in the last decades of the twentieth century. Then, in the late 1990s, it had to make way for an office building, the so-called Klundertoren, named after the architect who designed it. The artwork on top of it from 2003, by Jan van Munster, reads IK—Dutch for ‘I’.

The school was demolished and was offered a ‘new’ space in an old and decrepit building, classified as a ‘monument’ or listed building, opposite the original location. The renovation would partly be paid for by the real estate developer of the Klundertoren. After a disastrous process of moving the school into a building of which the renovation was not finished, the responsible councillor decided two years later that the school would have to move again, to make way for another X-tower. At this point, a group of parents said ‘no’. Without knowing it at the time, they opposed a development project that involved an estimated investment of around 50 million euros. In a sense,
they were critically unaware.

Klundertoren, Utrecht, photo: H. Boland, Utrecht Archive.

1. experiencing criticality

Battles like these take a lot of time. One question is how long people are prepared to keep on fighting and stick together. For a real estate developer, five years, or ten years, or even fifteen years is nothing. On the contrary, years may add to profit. Let’s call this the critical limit of perseverance. In this case, the battle would take five years.

Real estate developers may, on the face of it, function within the limits of the law, but are often closely allied with parties that do not. First, there were two clumsy, nightly attempts to set the listed building containing the school on fire. Then, during a gymnastics class of six- and seven-year-olds in the gym on the first floor, the stairway leading up to the gym was set on fire, as well as the doors to the emergency exit. An astute teacher grabbed a bench, pushed it through the window and helped the children escape via the roof of the neighbouring building. Let us call this the criticality of the situation.

In a civil society, this is serious business. Now that their children had been brought into a life-threatening situation by an unknown actor, the parents might have decided to give up. Yet the burned shoes of the children that had been left before the door of the gym inspired them to contact the mayor, who in the Dutch system is in charge of the police. When the responsible councillor told the city council what had happened, there was a strange, chilling silence that had its political effect. The school was granted the permission to stay, and the building would be properly renovated. A fourth attempt to set it on fire did not have the desired effect either. As the council had taken its official decision, the critical moment had passed.

2. practicing criticality

In the case at hand, criticality consisted in the determination to take everything that the councillor or officials were saying as a subject of research, and to follow the money. It took the collective of parents two years of in-depth research, involving all the legal possibilities to acquire the necessary information, to find out that this specific school had to be removed because it was part of a substantial number of public-school buildings that were going to be sold and converted into apartment buildings. The funds thus obtained provided the municipality with the money needed for concentrating the city’s entire vocational education in three new buildings. The latter may be a worthy cause. The question was why the money had to be found at the cost of public schooling, and at the cost of political and ethical transparency. The school buildings to be sold were often located in urban environments that over the past years had become impressively expensive, due to gentrification and economic developments. The municipality had to negotiate all sorts of agreements with real estate developers, who do not tend to spend public money cautiously and often operate in the shadows rather than in the full light of public scrutiny.

In response, the collective of parents decided to operate in the open. Every step they took was documented on a website: every plan, every letter, all arguments. When at some point the councillor tried to contact a member of the collective (me), and this parent engaged in a personal mail conversation, the parent was corrected by a good friend, also part of the collective, who was able to follow the conversation. And rightly so. It was a mail conversation that, because of its personal character, could easily lead to unofficial agreements, on the side, in the shadows, threatening the very transparency that was at stake. criticality involved the scrutiny of what others were saying and doing, and the attempt to be as open as possible to the critical assessment by others.

3. an ethics of criticality

Though the collective as a whole did not use the term explicitly, criticality proved to be a matter of defining it through praxis. During the height of the struggles, the collective would meet every two weeks, and discuss what to do, how to do it, and what not to do. Few parents involved had read Derrida, but in a sense,all were involved in a process of deconstruction since deconstruction is not something enforced upon something, but is always already at work in something, whether a text or situation. The doxa of real estate development and city council was already deconstructing itself through discursive cracks or contradictions that were made visible in the critical documentation process of the parents. It is helpful to re-read Derrida about the concept of deconstruction, here:

... deconstruction is neither an analysis nor a critique and its translation would have to take that into consideration. It is not an analysis in particular because the dismantling of a structure is not a regression toward a simple element, toward an indissoluble origin. … No more is it a critique, in a general sense or in Kantian sense. The instance of krinein
or of krisis (decision, choice, judgment, discernment) is
itself, as is all the apparatus of transcendental critique, one
of the essential ‘themes’ or ‘objects’ of deconstruction.Jacques Derrida, ‘Letter to a Japanese Friend’, in Derrida and Difference, ed. David Wood and Robert Bernasconi (Warwick: Parousia Press, 1985), pp. 2–3.

The quote helps us first of all to distinguish between critique and criticality. The first connotes the ability to decide, choose, judge, discern. The second connotes the fact that decisions, choices, judgments, and discernments are precisely the object or theme of deconstruction. The core of the struggle for the school was not to prove the municipality or its real estate allies wrong, but to show how the process of decision-making had been full of uncritical decisions, choices, judgments, and discernments. Secondly, it is worthwhile noting that the quote comes from a letter addressed to Toshihiko Izutsu, an expert on Zen Buddhism and Sufism, with a great interest in Truth (Satori, or Enlightenment). This truth, according to Izutsu, cannot be grasped by reason or language, nor can it be taught or understood intellectually.Kojiro Nakamura, ‘The Significance of Toshihiko Izutsu’s Legacy for Comparative Religion’, Intellectual Discourse 17, no. 2 (2009), pp. 147–58. It can only be a matter of praxis and process. Truth can never be discovered, then, although it can be momentarily experienced.

The fight for the school was not a spiritual matter. Or was it, at least in part? If criticality was involved, it consisted in the desire to work towards truth—
a truth that had two modalities. One the one hand it concerned a process of criticality during which, in a certain sense, truth was found: the financial reality of agreements between the municipality, big educational institutions and real estate developers. This truth does matter, as it may (but need not) increase the force of arguments. Yet it remains superficial without the veracity of a process, where truth is not to be discovered but to be experienced. Let’s call this the ethics of criticality.

4. the situatedness of criticality

The specific case stands for a more general state of affairs. On all levels of government, the Dutch state has retreated from public tasks in the context of neo-liberal deregulation, propelled by the idea that ‘the market’ (a fiction) will do things better (a lie).

Critical making, in this context, with its focus on diy modes of making, holds a promise and a potential to serve the needs and desires of a multiplicity of people. In a sense, the entire struggle for the school was a matter of a political diy. If the city council, if the councillor, if all sorts of public officials lack the agency or determination to adequately take care of public matters and public money, this provokes a diy response.

Situatedness is of critical importance. The current form of capitalism is interested in anything that can make the system even more flexible, resulting in less stability for citizens, fewer rights, less care for labourers of all sorts. What is called deregulation often comes down to fuzzy forms of responsibility that make it difficult to follow money flows. The history of the Italian precario bello has been considered as a case in point. When in the seventies ‘playing’ and ‘not sticking to the rules’ became an important tool to deregulate state power, the economic response was that, hey!, playing and not sticking to the rules can be used to reconfigure labourers or employees, demanding them to become ever more creative in ever more precarious circumstances. Consequently, if diy was an instrument of the empowerment of people in the first instance, it also is a form that, in certain situations, can be cheaply appropriated or used as an excuse for more deregulation.

Criticality, in this context, means the full awareness of a situation, an awareness of what is at stake, an awareness of the alternatives one is looking for in a forcefield dominated by others. It concerns the perseverance to critically assess what powers in charge are doing, and requires a practice of transparency that leaves one open to the criticality of others.



Kate Rich

MM Pub21 V1 KR A Business.jpg


I would like to take up business as a term that regularly goes unexamined in the arts and humanities.Try scanning the texts of your favourite philosopher, artist, or activist thinker for business and you might see what I mean. Yet the idea of business could benefit from further attention, beyond its burnt-out definition of a site where entrepreneurs and workers transform resources into goods and services for profit. Some notions that I have scavenged from the margins of business discourse open up wormholes to new understandings. Management professor Martin Parker calls for an ‘insurgent entrepreneurship’ that could be critical, experimental, and playful with the economic status quo.‘Horizons of Possibility: Challenge Co-optation and Transformation’, in Martin Parker et al., eds., The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 359–72. Activist lawyer Janelle Orsi asks what would happen if we redefined enterprise as ‘any productive activity that could bring us sustenance’?Janelle Orsi, Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy: Helping People Build Cooperatives, Social Enterprise, and Local Sustainable Economies (Chicago, IL, American Bar Association, 2012). Social innovation scholar Warren Nilsson offers a gravitational vision of ‘unbound’ organization: an alternative geometry where business could have ‘a centre but no sides’, its activities coordinated through human intentions and relations, not formal structures and agendas.Warren Nilsson, Organization Unbound: The Spiritual Architecture of Organizations (2007). Available at
And in the context of critical making, social entrepreneur Matthew Manos has speculated on ‘business as a medium for critical inquiry’ where the formats and materials of business could be refocused towards meaning-making rather than market-based success.Matthew Manos, ‘Business as a Medium’, in Garnet Hertz, ed., Critical Making ([Hollywood]: Telharmonium, 2012), pp. 27–32. A piñata of possibilities, yet the wider opportunity glimpsed in these statements is that business might not be a done deal, but open to interpretation.

In my own case, I have been working as an artist with business as my medium and material for almost twenty years. My first foray into commerce was with Feral Trade, a sole trader grocery business operating across mixed terrain of art, social networks, and the commodity sphere since 2003 (for a more detailed description, see the entry for feral in this lexicon). I am also a part of the Cube Cola manufacturing partnership that produces and distributes an open-source cola worldwide. The cola is produced in our kitchen ‘lab’ and mailed out to customers in concentrate form; the recipe is freely shared. And I am a member of the accounts team at the Cube Microplex in Bristol, an all-volunteer-run arts venue that makes its living from the bar and the door takings. These endeavours are not proudly independent but rather the opposite, they make and maintain their interdependence with a constellation of other enterprises, from corporates to colleagues. These are the waste collectors, the regulatory agencies, the flavour industry giants, but they are also the corner shopkeepers, smallholder farms, feminist server collectives and diy shipping lines. To mention just a few like-minded endeavours, Company Drinks in London describe themselves as ‘art in the shape of a community drinks enterprise’.Kathrin Böhm and Kuba Szreder, ‘How to reclaim the economy using artistic means: The case of Company Drinks’, in J.K. Gibson-Graham and Kelly Dombroski, eds., The Handbook of Diverse Economies (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020), pp. 527–34. They run a yearly production cycle making and trading fizzy drinks in their community, a form of collectivity in art and economy they claim as a new and vital form of public space. And there is the Sail Cargo Alliance, a Europe-wide gathering of wind-powered sailing vessels, ships captains, and cargo brokers who are assembling a grassroots freight system that challenges not only the fuel source but the logic of the whole supply chain, down to what would be traded and why. Critically, these endeavours are not doing art or activism ‘about’ business but are out there in the world doing business for real.

Taking business as a stage and site for experiments in ‘surviving well together’ (in the words of feminist economist J.K. Gibson-Graham),J.K. Gibson-Graham, Jenny Cameron and Stephen Healy, Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013). the kind that might open up routes into other possible worlds, may seem counter-intuitive. Those working in the arts or education may have experienced being swept up or perhaps dragged under by a tide of business vocabulary and values, encapsulated in the bonanza of the Creative Industries that reconfigures creativity as a driver of economic growth. At the same time, the uneasy covenant that ‘business as usual’ would maintain a habitable planet has unarguably failed. Yet these fractures and fissures also point to an uncommon potential. business is widely understood and accessible, it operates in and across wildly different collectives, shapes, and scales. It can act as a Trojan horse, an avatar or exoskeleton in which to navigate this hostile yet contestable space that we hazily call ‘the economy’. The sail cargo captains are negotiating with commercial harbours to bring their vessels into port alongside the container ships. The artist-led drinks companies are merging their recipes to produce a trans-national cola with the potential to take down a stickily secretive, world-dominating incumbent. An artist-anarchist farming partnership finds a route through the welfare system to secure the Farm Household Allowance, an income that will bankroll their agriculture experiments for years to come.

In the case of Feral Trade, a few years back I was fortunate enough to be raided by Trading Standards, the UK consumer protection agency. Trading Standards investigates commercial entities that trade outside the law, they have more powers than the police and can for example enter your home without a warrant. They spent hours swarming the Feral Trade website, then cornered me for an interview. After lengthy negotiations, finding no consumer as such to protect—these are peer-to-peer transactions, negotiated entirely through social routes and relations—I received a kind of de facto, state-sanctioned permission to continue trading, in this grey zone of business that Feral Trade has made its home. A tiny island of regulatory indeterminacy, where the relationship between the commercial and the personal is blurred to the point that the law gets a headache.

These are wildly local and contingent examples; they are not models for anything. They are all also imbricated, co-produced and co-dependent with a host of other elements and effects, including the systems they contest. Yet this is also the point. The prospect of business could not be more salient, viewed from the burning debris of a torched economy. We all already are, have, or are in a unit of livelihood, or many—to annex the words of artist Joseph Beuys: ‘everyone is a business’! The challenge, and the potential, is to bring our day-to-day subsistence in line with the meanings we want to make. business could be a vehicle for doing that.


artistic research

Janneke Wesseling


Artistic research is a major buzzword in the European art field, in education (art academies and universities) as well as in exhibition circuits (museums, galleries, and bienniales). The artist as researcher has become a commonly accepted figure, but was hardly known in the field of contemporary visual art some twenty years ago.

Recent as the phenomenon may be, its roots can be traced back to early twentieth-century art movements such as Surrealism (Bureau de recherches surréalistes founded in 1925 by André Breton) and Marcel Duchamp, and especially to the 1960s and 1970s. Artistic research in visual art is highly indebted to conceptual art as it manifested itself both in the US (Dan Graham, John Baldessari, Hans Haacke, Joseph Kosuth, to mention just a few) and in Europe (George Brecht, Marcel Broodthaers, Hanne Darboven). In conceptual art, theoretical reflection plays a pivotal role. According to the early conceptual artists, the art work cannot not be separated from the context of history and politics and in order to produce art it was regarded as essential for artists to politically and discursively engage with society. Not only did conceptual artists reflect on societal and political issues, but on art and the art practice itself. They regarded critical reflection on one’s artistic procedures or doings as essential to the artistic process or as the artistic process itself. Language and text therefore acquired an important role in art practice and writings could be part of the art work
or even constitute the work itself (such as in the case
of Robert Barry, Kosuth and the early work of Lawrence Weiner). 

Another important factor in the emergence of theory and criticism as artistic practice were feminist art practices that aimed to reveal power structures
and patterns of hierarchy in society and in the art world (Elaine Sturtevant, Louise Lawler, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger).

For present-day artists, to position themselves as researcher rather than as a producer of marketable goods offers an alternative to the dominance of economic liberalism in the art field and to the capitalist exploitation that is tied to the production of goods. The artist-as-researcher problematizes, contextualizes, and re-enacts social, political, and environmental issues.


Artistic research could simply be defined as research carried out by artists (designers, composers, choreographers etc.)I use ‘art’ here in an inclusive way, encompassing
all artistic disciplines.
It is practice-based research that is carried out in and through artistic practice.Generally, in the Anglo-Saxon countries the term ‘practice-based’ or ‘practice-led’ research is used. Because of the traditionally subordinate status of ‘practice’ in the humanities, in European countries
the term ‘artistic research’ is preferred.

In artistic research, practical action (making) and theoretical reflection (thinking) go hand-in-hand, action and thought are inextricably linked. This type of research does not have a predetermined methodology. Like art practice, each artistic research project is idiosyncratic by nature, determined by the desire of the researcher to reflect on their practice, in collaboration with The artistic researcher works through theory-practice entanglements. This is to say, not by using practice as an illustration of theory or vice versa, but by exploring ways in which theory and practice are mutually implicated.Petra Klusmeyer, Sonic Periferies, PhD dissertation, Leiden University, 2019, p. 31.

Of course, art by its very nature is intelligent
and cognitive: art practice aims to gain a better understanding of the world and to deliver new perspectives on reality. In this broad sense, for many centuries, beginning with Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance, research has been recognized as part of the work artists were doing. In our time, that is since the twentieth century, a large part of contemporary art production can, at least to some degree, be identified with critical (self-)reflection (as argued above). So, if research is a natural part of art practice, ‘innate’ to it, then why would we want to use the term ‘research’ at all when we speak about art? What does it add? Art in itself is not in need of the qualification of ‘research’. Artists are in no way required to demonstrate that they are doing research, neither are they required to account for or explicate what they are doing and how they are doing it.

In an academic context, artistic research has acquired a more specific, and perhaps more relevant, meaning. As a consequence of the so-called Bologna Agreements (1999),, accessed 14 December 2021. entailing a Europe-wide reorganization of education which aimed at establishing a comparable BA and MA framework for all European countries, it became possible for artists and artistic ‘makers’ to obtain the PhD degree. Here, doing research means referring to making a particular research project that is made public as research project, including the artistic process that underlies it. In this context, certain criteria will have to be fulfilled. Such as the requirement that the researcher seeks
the discussion in the public domain. The artist-as-researcher distinguishes herself from other artists by taking it upon herself to gain a deeper understanding of the production of the work and the thinking process through a continuous dialogue with others. The artist-researcher allows others (peers, colleagues) to participate in their creative process, entering into a discussion with them and opening herself up to critique. In this context, the public dimension of research, in the sense of making the artistic process public and explicating the so-called ‘tacit knowledge’ embodied in the work and the practice, is at its core.


This book is an outcome of a collaborative research project conducted by five research and art institutions in the Netherlands: Leiden University, Willem de Kooning Academy, Rotterdam, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Waag Society, and West Den Haag. Its point of departure was rather unlikely: the technocratic creative industries research and development agenda of the Netherlands, conceived by a neoliberal government in the 2010s. The government’s cultural policy had boiled down to scrapping arts-related research in favour of digital technology research and development (based on a partial misinterpretation of ‘creative industries’ as Silicon Valley-style start-ups). Funding for contemporary art was cut, too, in favour of programmes for the creative industries. These policies have caused much wilful damage to the art world in the Netherlands over the past fifteen years.

The representatives of these five institutions came together as the Workgroup Making Matters to explore ways of bridging art, design, and technology as an alternative to the paradigm of ‘creative industries’.

The research project and the book are financed by the Smart Culture programme of the Dutch Research Council (NWO).

We received a great amount of support from colleagues in our field: Lotte Betting, Loes Bogers, ginger coons, Garnet Hertz, Emily Huurdeman, Janneke van Kersen (NWO), Shailoh Phillips, Rosalien van der Poel, Marielle Verdijk.

We thank Hackers & Designers for their collaboration and the design of the book.

We thank Het Nieuwe Instituut, West Den Haag and Waag for contributing the work and research time of their people.