Emma Cocker is a writer-artist based in Sheffield and Reader in Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University. Operating under the title Not Yet There, her research enquiry focuses on the process of artistic endeavour, alongside models of (art) practice and subjectivity that resist the pressure of a single, stable position by remaining willfully unresolved. Cocker’s work unfolds restlessly along the threshold between writing/art, often involving experimental, collaborative and performative approaches to writing in dialogue with, parallel to and as art practice. Her recent writing has been published in Failure, 2010; Stillness in a Mobile World, 2010; Drawing a Hypothesis: Figures of Thought, 2011; Hyperdrawing: Beyond the Lines of Contemporary Art, 2012, and On Not Knowing: How Artists Think, 2013, and as a collection entitled The Yes of the No, 2016. She is currently co-researcher on the project Choreo-graphic Figures: Deviations from the Line, 2014 – 2017.

'Desiring to be Led Astray' in 'Papers of Surrealism'

Published Essay 'Desiring to be Led Astray'
'Papers of Surrealism'; Issue 6, Autumn 2007
Editorial Board: Dawn Ades, David Lomas and Jennifer Mundy
Associate Editors: Anna Dezeuze and Julia Kelly
Find essay at http://www.surrealismcentre.ac.uk/papersofsurrealism/journal6/index.htm

Image: Sophie Calle, Suite Vénitienne

The essay proposes to explore the practice of ‘following’ as a tactical legacy of surrealist errance, by examining a range of contemporary art practices in relation to their surrealist precursors. The essay reflects on work by Vito Acconci, Bas Jan Ader, Tacita Dean, Rut Blees Luxemburg, Effie Paleologou, Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, before using the critical connections between André Breton’s text Nadja and Sophie Calle’s project Suite Vénitienne, as a point of conceptual departure, to suggest that the act of following has the capacity to draw together a number of divergent concerns or theoretical positions in relation to the notions of doubling or mirroring; mimicry, simulation and camouflage. The notion of ‘following’ or being led is interrogated as the location or conceptual site where a host of surrealist ideas are buried, and whose ghosts persist to haunt.

Image: Bas Jan Ader, In Search of the Miraculous - One night in Los Angeles, 1973.

Papers of Surrealism, Issue 6: Contents
Tyler Cann, ‘Surreal Sight Seer: Len Lye and Surrealism’
Emma Cocker, ‘Desiring to be Led Astray’
Barbara Creed, ‘The Unheimlich Pacific of Popular Film: Surreal Geography and the Darwinian Sublime’
David Lomas, ‘James Gleeson’s Desiring Production’
Anne Marsh, ‘A Surrealist Impulse in Contemporary Australian Photography’
Stephen Mould, ‘Dusan Marek, a Land-locked Czech Surrealist in the Antipodes’
Ken Wach, ‘Ivor Francis’s Schizophrenia of 1943’
Anthony White, ‘Graeme Doyle, The Cunningham Dax Collection and Surrealist Discourse’
Anthony White, ‘Terra Incognita: Surrealism and the Pacific Region’

Project: Open City Postcards








A series of commissioned postcards that were publicly distributed as part of the project, Open City, Nott Dance, October 2007. A further online text at http://pay-attention-to-the-footnotes.blogspot explores the analogy between footnotes and acts of wandering, and provides a critical subtext to the postcards that might remain (without anchor) long after the original texts themselves have disappeared. The essays could be read on postcards distributed publicly across Nottingham during October 2007.

Open City is an ongoing project developed by Andrew Brown, Katie Doubleday and Simone Kenyon exploring how we live in, journey through and experience the human and built environment. Intervening in the space between the conscious and the habitual; the planned and the impromptu, the solitary and the mass, audiences are invited to readdress their position within their city and enter a space where new encounters can take place. Artists Brown, Doubleday and Kenyon have been working with members of the public over the course of the year creating discreet interventions within the public realm. Over the course of the Nott Dance festival in Autumn 2007 the artists invited audiences to contribute to Open City by participating in mass choreographed events, creating a series of invisible performances throughout the city which are captured on camera and beamed back live to festival venues. Everyday movement and gestures become part of a larger choreography where the line between performer and audience are blurred and everyone present becomes included in the work. Postcards were handed out following Nott Dance performances with instructions for audience members to carry out at points over the festival, with texts commissioned by writer Emma Cocker.

Conference: PSi #13 Happening/Performance/Event

Conference Paper - See http://www.psi-web.org/psi13/main.html
See full text at http://desiring-to-be-led-astray.blogspot.com/
PSi #13 Happening/Performance/Event
8th – 11th November 2007
New York University, New York, NY

Image: Sophie Calle, Suite Venitienne

Returning to New York University, where the first PSi conference was held in 1990, PSi #13: Happening/Performance/Event will ask questions of performance studies’ history and futurity. The invocation of the happening gestures to practices that emerged in the 1950’s as a mode of Avant-Garde performance as well as the critical approach developed by Michael Kirby for describing it, which are key terms for Performance Studies. The event has been theorized as an interruption that represents the not-yet-imagined new. This conference will comprise plenary sessions, panels, and presentations, in which contributors will engage the happening and the event and their key relationship to the history of the field. Scholars, artists, activists, and writers will come together to discuss, debate, and perform different incarnations of its history and to consider the horizon of its future. Performances will happen on campus, in the Department of Performance Studies’ Happenings Lounge as well as throughout the city in association with PERFORMA ’07. Over 400 participants from a range of countries will be attending this event.

Abstact
In this paper I want to explore how the notion of errance – a form of Surrealist automatic drifting or wandering that emerged in the early 1920s - can be resurrected, and recuperated as a critical precursor of performative practices from the late 1950s onwards. At a formal level the practice of errance can be positioned as a part of a tradition of politically resistant spatial navigation or urban geography – where the Surrealist events of the early 1920s can be seen to anticipate the Situationists’ deployment of the dérive as a means to reflect the pedestrians’ experience of the city. Alternatively the notion of collective wandering or the search for the ‘everyday marvellous’ re-emerges as part of the vocabulary of Happenings and early conceptual work; where for example, it is evoked in Allan Kaprow’s description of the ‘Guided Tour or Pied Piper Happening’. However rather than conceptualising a trajectory of practices that share a ‘likeness’ with Surrealist errance, my intent is to approach it from a different perspective that resonates more with the ideas of this conference. More than simply a form of Surrealist automatism; a precursor of Andre Breton’s objective chance, or a symptom of psychologically driven compulsion-repetition, I want to present a case where errance can be understood as a form of proto-conceptual practice or pre-Happening: the moment where innumerable contemporary motifs and critical strategies emerge. In one sense, Surrealist errance operates as a model of purposeless repetition, according to the relentless obligation to a rule or system that is absurd, arbitrary or somehow undeclared. Errance thus presents an early paradigm of non-teleological performativity, for its searches are forever unrewarded, its goals always deferred. Alternatively it could be understood as a tactical process of declassification; where at times the relationship between self and other; body and environment, or between art and life becomes blurred through the performative possibilities of ludic role-play or the tactic of following another. Focusing on the nature of the categorical slippage created by the gesture of following within both Surrealist and contemporary practices, I am interested in how this ‘blurring’ can be read as a form of camouflage, rather than as true dissolution or non-differentiation: where it can be understood in both critical and compulsive terms as either a moment of existential crisis or as an experiment performed according to predetermined rules of the game.

Participating writers, artists and activists will include, but are not limited to:Fred Moten, Jerome Bel, Isaac Julien, RoseLee Goldberg, Laurie Simmons, Christian Marclay, Diana Taylor , Sadiya Hartman, Hannah Higgins, Karen Finley, Midori Yoshimoto, Carol Becker, Laurie Beth Clark, Karen Tongson, Alan Read, Rebecca Schneider, Branislav Jakovljevic, Hanifah Walidah, Richard Schechner, Jen Harvie, Marianne Hirsch, Gavin Butt, Jennifer Doyle, Karen Shimakawa, Philip Auslander, André Lepecki, Sudipto Chatterjee, Lois Weaver, Geraldine Harris, Peta Tait, Meiling Cheng, Shannon Jackson, Judith Halberstam, Freddie Rokem, José Esteban Muñoz, Nao Bustamante, Peggy Shaw, Una Chaudhuri, Miguel Fernandez, Joe Kelleher, Deborah Kapchan, Xavier Le Roy, Oliver Feltham, David Román, Jill Dolan, Tim Etchells, Amelia Jones, Ann Pellegrini, Carolee Schneemann, Michal Kobialka, Adrian Kear, Tavia Nyong’o, Marvin Carlson, W.B. Worthen, Judith Rodenbeck, Sue Broadhurst, Steve Dixon, Dynasty Handbag, Holly Hughes, Andrew Quick, Kalup Linzy, Elin Diamond, Ed Scheer, My Barbarian, Tracy Davis, Nicholas Ridout, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Joseph Roach, Yvonne Rainer, Jon McKenzie, Adrian Heathfield, Jane Blocker, Emily Coates ...

Writing: Are We There Yet?

Commissioned essay which interrogates the potential of boredom and anti-climax in relation to artistic practice and the programme at Bloc gallery in Sheffield; and which recuperates a value for the provisional and unresolved. The text explores how the act of waiting and hesitation - and how moments of indecision and disappointment - not only form part of or underpin the process of certain artistic practices; but also how they might wilfully remain in the exhibition of the work itself. Read the full text here.


Images: (left) Graeme Stonehouse; (right) Chris Clarke

" ...Waiting is an episode of time in which the quickening pulse of adrenalin and slow rhythm of boredom struggle to conduct the pace of passing hours. Witness the bored thrill of the anticipatory queue gathering force; or the restless lethargy that seeps into spaces where waiting occurs - the languid non-place of the airport lounge or the back seat of cars, child-filled and travelling along incessant motorways. Waiting is a threshold across which the future is conjured; the interminable limbo of all adolescent dreams; a chasm of pleasure and irritation into which the unspoken fantasies of the everyday might fall or take flight.iii Situational or abstract, it is performed along a spectrum of expectation that ranges from awaiting the familiar or repeated, to anticipating the not yet known. The duration of waiting is equally ambiguous, for it is inevitably too long and yet somehow never enough. Think of those involuntary moments of indecision when the unfulfilled wait is finally abandoned.

The nature of unresolved waiting, when an end or destination remains at a distance, creates the liminal experience of being not-yet-there; a period of restlessness or temporal vacuum in which a range of random, repetitious or equally resourceful practices might develop to occupy the void. Within the recent curatorial programme at Bloc, a number of artists have appeared to evoke the feeling of being not-yet-there by reflecting upon the more disquieting durational processes that underpin the making of work. They seem to draw attention to the habitually unseen or hidden experience of practice - the hours of inaction or hanging around; the doubt, indecision or disappointment; the relentless searching and waiting for something tangible to emerge or for ‘the art to happen’.iv Arguably there are stages of both intermission and inefficient labour in even the most prolific practice, however in this context such episodes are not only an implicit part of making work, but rather creep in from the periphery to be put to use at the heart of the work itself, where they become strategically emphasised or indulged; deliberately extended or prolonged. The act of waiting becomes the site of practice...."

Read more at the 'Discourse' section of the Bloc website here.

Site Platform: Into the fray

Image: Hester Reeve, 'The Applause', 2006.

See http://www.sitegallery.org//content_repository/Platform_2006_text.pdf.
Commissioned essay in response to work by Evangelia Basdekis, Michael Graham, Duncan Higgins, Hester Reeve, who exhibited as part of Site Platform at Site Gallery, 2006, where the gallery space was used to undertake performative, durational, cumulative, experimental, in progress or interactive work. The essay proposes the metaphor of ‘fray’ as a loose construct through which to discuss the series of events and exhibitions presented as part of Site Platform (2006). Fray is a gesture of unravelling and undoing the already known; a situation of stress or rupture through which to break the illusory surface of a given reality; an act of disruption that causes the breakdown of substances or situations to reveal their constituent elements and hidden structures. A fray signals the indeterminate threshold where one thing collapses and another begins: it is a moment of instability, transition or flux. I am interested in the frayed edge of practice where the art stops and starts; in the idea of fray as an analogy for irresolution or open-endedness within practice; and in the sense of practices both responding to and affecting a fray/glitch in the way that world is encountered. The notion of ‘fray’ is adopted as a construct or model through which to connect the separate projects by the artists in Platform: Duncan Higgins, Michael Graham, Hester Reeve, and Evangelia Basdekis.

"Language can be irredeemably imprecise. In the realm of artistic practice the same word can signal both a spatial form and a temporal event, describing a process of creation or construction and yet also the material nature of the resulting artefact. Picture … Stitch … Stage … Frame … Film … Trace … Map … Crease. Other terms conjure multiple connotations, serving more like double agents or saboteurs that perpetually undercut the possibility of one potential meaning with the presence of another. Object for example suggests something concrete that can be seen or touched, and yet equally sounds out as the rally cry of dissent, the motivation to fuel all insurgent provocation. Meaning is thus never still, nor ever wholly certain. Within Georges Bataille’s Critical Dictionary there is always a double use for language, such that the term formless for instance not only works as an adjective pertaining to ambiguity or shapelessness, but can also be performed as an operation that declassifies or ‘brings things down’. Fray is perhaps another such term. At a material level it is used to indicate a tear or worn area of fabric: the point at which a garment begins to collapse and become useless or the moment where the continuity of a textile surface is broken or put under strain. Fray is also a site of skirmish, a sign of contestation or crisis. Emotionally or psychologically it speaks of nerves jangling; tensions rising; of patience stretched and of the endured action pushed to the limit.

A fray can metaphorically signal instability of the conceptual as well as physical kind where analogous to the Greek notion of aporia it might describe a zone of working doubt or of irresolution. Akin to the garment cast aside mid-stitch, logic might become frayed, relinquishing its temporary shape to fall formless to the floor in abject tangles. However whilst seemingly undesirable, the fray remains an irresistible tease - a site of seduction and delinquency that demands attention. For who hasn’t at some point succumbed to the curious temptation of the loose thread; felt the moment of simultaneous violence and pleasure as the weave irreversibly unravels. Or else might have worried at the incomplete and fuzzy edges of a narrative until the hidden secret is finally disclosed. A fray can thus be seen as a gesture of undoing or spoiling the habitual or already known; a period of stress which breaks through the illusory surface of a given reality; an act of disruption that causes the breakdown of substances or situations to reveal their constituent elements, their hidden order"

Read the full essay http://www.sitegallery.org//content_repository/Platform_2006_text.pdf

The essay extends or responds to ideas explored in an earlier article in a-n magazine. Read the full review at http://sites.a-n.co.uk/interface/reviews/single/335623

In conversation with Clio Barnard

The Art Book
Volume 14 Issue 4 Page 73-74, November 2007

Image: Clio Barnard, Dark Glass

Clio Barnard is an artist/filmmaker whose work deals with the fluid relationship between imagination and reality, documentary and fiction. Her recent installation Road Race focuses on the usually unseen gypsy traveller tradition of horse racing on motorways; whilst her short film Dark Glass - constructed around a session of hypnosis - interrogates the instability of memory and the subjectivity of recollection, and is currently touring the UK as part of Single Shot (www.single-shot.co.uk) She was awarded the Paul Hamlyn Award for Artists in 2005, and a large scale commission through the Jerwood/Artangel Open in 2006 (www.thejerwoodartangelopen.org.uk)

Find a pdf of the interview by following this link:
http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/action/showPdf?submitPDF=Full+Text+PDF+%28907+KB%29&doi=10.1111%2Fj.1467-8357.2007.00890.x

The interview was also included in a catalogue for Barnard's exhibition at the Herbert Read Gallery (2007), alongside essays by Sarah Wood and ELizabeth Cowie.

Space Place and Visuality

Conference Paper - See http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/nirv/SpacePlaceVisuality/announcement.htm

Space, Place and Visuality’ with WJT Mitchell
A symposium entitled: ‘Space, Place and Visuality’ organised by the Department of Art History and Nottingham Institute for Research in Visual Culture (NIRVC) will take place on 11th July 2007 at the University of Nottingham. This symposium forms part of wider series of events taking place during WJT Mitchell’s Leverhulme Visiting Professorship. Also taking part in the plenary discussions will be Professor David Peters Corbett of the University of York. The aim of the workshop is to encourage cross-disciplinary discussion on contemporary theories of space and place with specific reference to ‘altered landscapes’. Although most often considered in terms of American landscape, papers are sought which look at altered landscapes both in and beyond the United States, drawing on but not restricted to themes such as: home/dwelling/; identity; transience; location and sense of place; non-place; and the sublime.

Speakers
Emma Cocker (Nottingham Trent University, Fine Art), ‘The Art of Misdirection: Anti-guides and Aimless Wandering’
John Fagg (University of Nottingham, School of American Studies), ‘ “Unguided” Tours: William Gropper’s Depression Era Travelogues’
María del Pilar Blanco (New York University, Comparative Literature), ‘“Restless analysis” and adventure stories: the landscapes of modern simultaneity in José Martí and Henry James’
Maggie Jackson (University of Chester, Art History) and Jeremy Turner (University of Chester, Fine Art), ‘In Praise of Gawping: North Lincolnshire, a Topographical Study’
Kevin Hunt (University of Nottingham, School of American Studies), 'Signs and Structures in Ashcan School Urban Realism'
Simon Dell (UEA, Art Studies and Museology), ‘The End of Modernism and the Altered Landscape of the 1960s’
Plenary: WJT Mitchell (University of Chicago, Professor of English and Art History), David Peters Corbett (University of York, Professor of Art History) and Mark Rawlinson (University of Nottingham)

Emma Cocker - Abstract
Title: The Art of Misdirection: Anti-guides and Aimless Wandering

The paper discusses how artists (from both the past and present) have used 'wandering' as a critical tool to explore temporary, multiple and contrary readings of space; or as a performative tactic in order to alter or destabilise the way in which an environment is negotiated or navigated. Such practices explore how a sense of place is informed by the lived experiences that slip beneath the radar of the visual: the latent histories and individual narratives of occupation; the contested boundaries and disputed borders; the emotional archaeology of inhabitation that makes up the invisible structures of the landscape. The resurgence of interest in the act of walking or ‘wandering’ within contemporary artistic practice can be viewed as a strategic operation through which to challenge or subvert the abstract logic of visual systems of spatial representation. It carries the possibility of rupture by reintroducing a temporal pulse or form of narration (itinerary) back into the abstract nexus of the map or grid. Referring to the writing of Michel de Certeau, wandering is argued to function as a tactic of recuperation through which a contingent and relational notion of place might be retrieved; and where unauthorised or invisible versions of reality - emerging at the interstice between memory, anecdote and lived experience - might challenge the panoptic register of cartography or the gaze of relentless surveillance technologies.

'Repeat, Repeat'

CHESTER UNIVERSITY School of Art and Design
19-21 April 2007

In the face of a well-theorised notion of difference the emergence of repetition as a key visual and cultural concept, and its suggested persistence of sameness, raises a range of questions. Constructions of time, subjectivity, organisation of power, gender, desire, creativity are all brought into focus through the movement of return and repeat that in turn highlights fundamental questions about subjectivity, embodiment and meaning. The contemporary age’s acceleration of technology has placed us within the logical outcomes of Marx early theorisation of repetitive labour and Benjamin’s reflections on art and mechanical reproduction. Repetition and its implications could therefore be seen as pivotal to an understanding of our contemporary cultural condition. Re-visiting, or re-assessing some of the founding ideas of modern culture could be seen as more than just repeating ourselves but, in the act itself, the reflection of a inescapable state of being. This conference addresses the implication of repetition for contemporary culture and its creative possibilities does repetition, as cultures dominant, seek to keep us in the same place, or does it reveal to us the possibilities of moving forward?

ABSTRACT: Chasing Shadows: Tactics for Getting lost

My paper explores the act of repetition evident in the gesture of following another, a mimetic form of performance that can be understood as an articulation of the desire to be led astray or to ‘lose oneself’ through relinquishing or giving over responsibility for one’s own actions. The act of following another is proposed as a form of escape or immersion whereby the itinerary of another is borrowed as a device for wilful disorientation, as a catalyst for a game of chance or as the impetus for ludic wandering. Referring to the writing of Roger Caillois on the practice of mimicry, the act of following another is explored as a form of both playful inhabitation and of involuntary possession; where the repeated gesture can be interpreted as a form of psychological deliquescence, and yet also as a strategic or ludic practice that performs to specific ‘rules of the game’. Drawing on the critical connections between surrealist and contemporary practices as a point of conceptual departure, the notion of repetition inherent in following another can be positioned as a paradigm of both compulsion and criticality: the embodiment of both existential alienation or psychosis, and a form of performative, playful resistance or role-play.

The full conference paper can be found here.
More information about the overall conference can be found here

Conference: Telling Stories: Theories and Criticism

Conference paper and forthcoming publication (2007)
'Telling Stories: Theories and Criticism' @ Loughborough School of Art and Design, April 2007
Read more at here.

New modes of critical writing are challenging conventional expectations of meaning and objectivity through narrative/counter-narrative, authorial presence, style, language, and rhetoric. This development is also present in the visual arts. Writings, which offer alternative forms to synthesis, and the linear and conclusive, challenge the boundaries between theory and literature and between the rational and subjective. Speakers are invited to explore the performative exchange across verbal and experiential disciplines. This conference forms part of a series that will examine the manner and structure of narration across a range of contemporary practices (e.g. art object, film, photography, criticism). Keynote speakers include Yve Lomax (Royal College of Art) and Jane Rendell (Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL)

Image: Heather and Ivan Morison, Chinese Arboretum

Abstract: Not Yet There: Endless Searches and Irresolvable Quests
The list unfolds like chapters or episodes from a Paul Auster novel: the blind following of another’s footfall; the retracing of an already failed endeavour; journeys with guidebooks whose content is obsolete; global expeditions at the request of tree fanatics; a tragic sea voyage in search of the miraculous; the hunt for angels. The paper explores how irresolution, uncertainty, disorientation and the process of ‘getting lost’ might be valued as strategic conditions within artistic and research practice. It draws attention to artistic practices that critically adopt an endless, repeated or irresolvable quest as a central strategy, in order to propose a model of research or criticism based on the notion of ludic wandering. In both practice and theory, the endless or irresolvable quest might be seen as an attempt to reconcile the desire for knowledge and the lure of the teleological outcome, with the possibility of ambiguity, indeterminacy and inconclusive action. Whilst the method of a traditional quest narrative might be adopted within such practices, the notion of the telos is often rejected or sabotaged in favour of a redeemed or strategic form of anti-climax or deferral, where the indeterminate or latent potential of being ‘not yet there’ is privileged above the finality of closure. Reclaimed from the vaults of Romanticism and invested with a sense the ludic or absurd, the irresolvable quest can be redefined as a critical and conceptual site of meaningful non-productivity. It enables a space of intentional aporia or conjecture that encourages the potential for irresolution and transitivity, and which emphasises the interplay between facts and fictions. Drawing on Roger Caillois’ analysis of play and games, the paper proposes a conceptual framework through which to explore the notion of the irresolvable quest, where it is possible to conceive a critical paradigm that allows for pleasurable and unproductive states of uncertainty and indecision, whilst at the same time enabling meaningful questions or hypotheses to be inhabited or tested out.

Speakers
Jane Rendell (Bartlett School of Architecture)
Site-Writing: Subjectivity and Positionality in Art Criticism
Yve Lomax (Royal College of Art)
Talking Theory
Emma Cocker (Nottingham Trent University)
Not Yet There : Endless Searches and Irresolvable Quests
Maria Fusco (University of East London)
Without Me You're Nothing: Fiction, Art Criticism and the Art of Anti-Suspense
Francis Halsall (Limerick School of Art & Design)
Aesthetics and the Writing of Art-History
Craig Martin (University College for the Creative Arts)
The Methodology of Mailmen: On Delivering Theory
Mary Oliver (writer, performer, director, University of Salford)
Never Work with Animals, Children and Digital Characters
Sissu Tarka (artist, curator)
Turbulent Relations

The Art of Misdirection


Dialogue
New writing and discussion online
Burning Public Art: Issue: 5
April 2007 to July 2007
Guest edited by Gordon Dalton and Gavin Wade.

Dialogue was invited to develop an issue which responded to 'artists working in the public realm' by the organisers of the Situation Leeds festival (taking place in Leeds in May). When discussing the issue at our editorial meetings, the enormity and complexity of such a brief became apparent. From the editorial panel Gordon Dalton and Gavin Wade were selected to take this issue forward and develop a model which, rather than pin-point one aspect, made visible all these issues, debates and fissures. Emma Cocker discusses a number of projects by Lucy Harrison in which the act of wandering is used as a critical tool through which to explore temporary, multiple and contrary readings of place.

'The Art of Misdirection', examines the resurgence of interest in the act of wandering within contemporary art practice. Emma Cocker reflects on a series of projects by artist Lucy Harrison and discusses the ways in which artists have used 'wandering' as a critical tool through which to explore temporary, multiple and contrary readings of place. The intent is to establish a conceptual connection between Harrison’s practice and the writing of cultural theorist Michel de Certeau, who in The Practices of Everyday Life (1984) proposes a critical and resistant function for the act of walking.

See full text here

Things We Lost in the Fire

Things We Lost in the Fire
Leicester City Art Gallery
7 Mar — 14 Apr 2007


Image: Ruth Claxton: Lands End

"When the body is cremated, there are still certain things that might withstand the fire. Though the familiar exterior will undoubtedly be lost; hidden relics may emerge in the flames. Gold crowns might be rescued from the settled ashes. The unseen pins and staples that have until now held the body in place can be collected in a small pot and stored away. Prosthetic hip joints gleam against the hot coals like treasures gleaned from an abandoned ruin, like heirlooms salvaged from catastrophe. It is to this dust that we must return.

Trial by fire has come to mean a process of transition and change, a rite of passage where innocence is lost and maturity gained. It signals the wilful abandonment or loss of what is known; in order to wander, as though blindfolded into the unknown void beyond. Hermes is a broker between such worlds. Greek god of transitivity; of gaps and thresholds; of transformation and twilight zones: it is no coincidence that Hermes is also the finder of fire.

Hypothetically speaking, in the event of a house fire most people claim they would forfeit objects of material worth, in order to grasp from the immeasurable vault of sentimentality and from their cherished memory banks. Photographs perhaps are the objects most feared to be lost in the fire, for each abandoned film is like a chapter torn from a book and burnt; leaving behind only an incoherent and partial narrative. Fragile stories vanish forever in the flames. Past. Regret. Promise. Forgetting. Release. Odd words or phrases now float free from their former grammatical logic: a suspended sentence through which to rewrite a new beginning. Imagine the scene..."


This text is a response to Things We Lost in the Fire, an exhibition curated by Gordon Dalton, including the work of six UK artists - Ruth Claxton, Gordon Dalton, Lloyd Durling, Mark Gubb, Merlin James and Cecile Johnson Soliz.

See full text here

Pow Wow

Commissioned text in response to Richard Bartle's Pow Wow, part of 'Conflict', 20 -21 Visual Arts Centre, Scunthorpe, 10 Feb — 9 Jun 2007

" ... The act of burial is an ambiguous ritual that is a marker of both protection and repression: it serves to erase or hide an object, individual or event from the past and locate it beyond the realm of the visible. The event of burial can be understood as a gesture of care where the valuable or vulnerable are placed beyond the reach of harm; or else it might speak of a more wilful concealment or deception at play where certain facts or occurrences are deliberately hidden or corrupted so that they may never be brought to trial. Hidden within the cloudy recesses of both personal and political memory; located in unknown archives and in unnamed graves; or else concealed within coded and impenetrable pockets of the world wide web, the ghosts of unspoken and unspeakable histories still stir from under a fiction of normality. In different ways, both archaeology and psychology work to uncover or reveal these latent layers and historical fragments; drawing them to the surface such that they may be forced to account for their role within the events of the present ..."

See full text here

Everything is so much bigger than us

Everything is so much bigger than us
S1 Artspace, Sheffield
25 Jan — 4 Feb 2007

This text is specualatively written in response to the exhibition, Everything is so much bigger than us and was originally posted on the reviews unedited site at a-n.co.uk. See full text here

"At a surface level only a fine line differentiates the desire to escape from a given situation from the more existential yearning to disappear altogether; for both types of willed departure are marked by the longing to slip the net of one's everyday existence in search of new experiential frontiers and the yet unknown. At first glance too, there is little to delineate between the forms of situational and existential boredom, for each dreary manifestation seems plagued by the slow monotony of passing hours and a feeling of deep, dark dissatisfaction in the here-and-now. Closer examination however reveals a greater disparity between these two modes of ennui: for it is the different indifference between waiting for the belated bus and waiting for life's final curtain call...."

Heather and Ivan Morison, Earthwalker

Danielle Arnaud Gallery, London
3 Nov — 10 Dec 2006
"The image conjured by slide projected travelogues relayed to others in the comfort of a domestic space or home is now synonymous with the cliché and banality of middle class travel and tourism; where the photographic residue of holiday experiences are regurgitated to a bored audience of friends and family. This cultural tradition is one that also attests to the glitch in photography's promise, for the image only infrequently captures the experience of the moment and more often strips the event of any meaningful content or action. Arguably the photographic record or memento of travel can only ever be a pale echo of the experiential encounter with a place, for its documentary value might serve only as an aide memoir for those who participated in the actual journey itself. Here any transferable meaning is rendered void by the chasm of experience between that which has been authentically felt or seen and how this then translates as an anecdote or narrative that can be offered up to others..."

See full text here

or in Work, Starmaker, 2005 on Heather and Ivan Morison's website - http://www.morison.info/

When Unloud becomes disquiet

See full text here

"... Working against the teleological grain of Western knowledge, irresolution is the wicked genie of ambiguity and ambivalence, preferring a turbulent state of disorder to the illusionary calm of logical or rational cognition. Irresolution carries with it connotations of uncertainty and indecision, of conjecture and disquiet; for it speaks of a failure to reach consensus and a sense, perhaps, of things not being quite as they should be. It suggests a point of dissatisfaction or doubt; the troubling or nagging worry felt when something refuses to be laid to rest. It is the quiet voice whose reservations still linger at the edges of a decision or declaration; whose questions threaten to stir or break the surface of any temporary harmony or contented stasis. Irresolution is a gesture of pause or hesitancy, an event of reflection and of momentary stillness before action resumes and activities become set again in motion. It is an indeterminate condition that brings to mind the metaphor of loose threads where akin to the garment cast aside mid-stitch, a narrative logic fails to become coherent, and instead seems to unravel or relinquish its temporary shape, falling formless to the floor in abject tangles [...] From the personal to the political, the notion of irresolution suggests that something has been left unsaid: it describes a form of psychological stalemate resulting from a social bind that has been left in limbo; a relationship forsaken but not forgotten, a history that has been shelved but not yet archived. Politically speaking, irresolution might describe ideas and belief systems that are pitched in perpetual tension; the friction of irreconcilable histories; the jarring of incompatible agendas and of binary forms. On a more personal level, irresolution is the condition manifest in the failure to forgo or abandon a romantic attachment: it evokes a sense of emotional ties which refuse to be severed, conjured whilst melancholically tracing a finger over a lost lover's letter, or dwelling hopelessly in the imaginative space afforded by fading photographic mementoes. Representative of a dialogue broken or sentence stalled, irresolution emerges as a gesture of both futility and pleasure, attesting alternatively to the frustration felt at the argument abandoned before a deal is struck, or the sense of promise which follows the conversation postponed until some future moment ..."

Distance

Distance
Galerie5020, Salzburg
21.09.06 - 07.10.06.

Image: Julie Westerman

Commissioned exhibition essay for Distance, an exhibition of work emerging from an exchange between artists from S1 Artspace, Sheffield and Galerie5020, Salzburg.The text explores the notion of distance in relation to proverbial and anthropological accounts of both individual and collective social behaviour and human interaction. Using the metaphor of the body as a symbol of wider social systems, and especially in connection to the tourist or heritage site, the concept of distance is explored as a gesture of protection but also of exclusion. Distance is proposed as an act of separation and isolation, which aims to preserve against unwanted change or progression, but which inevitably results in stasis or stagnation within the body, social system or city space. Referring to the work in the exhibition, the intent is explore how the process of cultural exchange and artistic practice might contribute a sense of dynamism to the social system; where the exchange and flow of ideas and influences might operate as a pulse or energy providing city spaces with potentiality and possibility. The text explores how the notion of cultural distance can be seen to encourage the development of different positions and experiences in order that new social meanings and perspectives might be negotiated, constructed or contested; enabling a more complex dialogic or empathetic relationship with other’s pasts and presents, as well as with one’s own.

Read the essay here

Ordinary Monuments

Ordinary Monuments
Vane Gallery, Newcastle
12 January – 11 February 2006

The text was commissioned by Vane Gallery as an exhibition essay for Ordinary Monuments by Jorn Ebner and Alison Unsworth, which examined the urban environment, considering both its planned and random nature and highlighting aspects that often go unnoticed. Ordinary Monuments was at Vane from12 January – 11 February 2006.

"At the heart of all imaginary realms is a delusional fantasy. The desire to create another world is built on a foundation of idealism, escapism and on the suspension of disbelief. In the child’s fancy-dress exploits; in the obsessive pursuits of the model railway fanatic; in the blueprint proposals on the tabletops of city developers; and in the plans of the most hopeful utopian, there inevitably exists the desire for a world beyond the present reality, a better world; a brave new world. Any imaginary or virtual realm allows the visionary the possibility of rewriting or re-conceptualising reality as something other, something different. However, in dreams of utopia lurk the ghosts of present dissatisfaction, frustration and discontent. Secret fiefdoms invert realities where the individual is impotent, powerless or repressed. Utopian states promise a perfect society of equality and community, where the pains of poverty, misery and disease are displaced or somehow wished away.

Combining the Greek words ‘not’ (ou) and ‘place’ (topos) the original term utopia means ‘nowhere’ or literally ‘not-place’, and was created to suggest the two neologisms ‘outopia’ (no place) and ‘eutopia’ (good place). The idea of utopia finds form in numerous economic, political, historical and cultural examples from Marxism to The Matrix, offering both the possibilities and tensions of eutopia (positive utopia) and dystopia (negative utopia) alike. The book Extinction by Thomas Bernhard (whose German version is referred to fleetingly within Jorn Ebner’s installation), muses on the difference between comedy and tragedy. The resolution reached is that they cannot be distinguished for this would require an impossible decision or differentiation, and that instead they offer an interconnectedness that cannot be pulled apart. The condition of utopia is equally ambivalent and promises an experience that oscillates between the eutopian dream and the horror of its dystopian actuality, in which the drives of optimism and pessimism are perpetually pitched in tension...."

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Transmission : Speaking and Listening Publication


From 2001 -5 I was one of the co-editors of the publication and lecture series, Transmission : Speaking and Listening Volumes 3 - 5, which is a collaboration between Site Gallery and Sheffield Hallam University. Volumes 3- 5 took up the themes Daily Encounters, Provenance / Inscription and Ornament and Utility/ Responsibility, inviting artists, curators and speakers from other disciplines to respond. the resulting discussions formed the basis of the publications. The publications listed below can be bought from www.cornerhouse.org/books/

Volume 5: Daily Encounters
http://cornerhouse.org/books/info.aspx?ID=1977&page=0
Editors Emma Cocker, Sharon Kivland, Jaspar Joseph Lester
Volume 5, the last in this series of publications developed from lecture series, addresses the habits and rituals shaping our everyday lives, and their relation with art. When taken out of the context of the everyday and made into works of art, those practices that we perceive as natural or real appear as constructed fabrications. In exploring the theme of daily encounters , artists and writers address the ways in which art may provoke and antagonize patterns of behaviour and systems of belief that often remain unquestioned. The contributors consider how works of art appropriate and re-deliver the naturalized and the everyday as a series of fictions and, in so doing, reflect the mechanisms and frameworks constructing our lives. Contributors include: Jaspar Joseph-Lester, Becky Shaw, Ryan Gander, Neal Rock, Imogen Stidworthy Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska, Nayan Kulkarni, Mike Marshall, Carey Young, Dave Beech Robert Milin, Doug Fishbone, Richard Wentworth, Hewitt and Jordan, Malcolm Miles, Amanda Beech and Chris Oakley.

Transmission: Speaking and Listening. Vol. 4 Provenance / Inscription (ISBN 1899926666)
http://cornerhouse.org/books/info.aspx?ID=1725&page=0
Co-editors Emma Cocker, Sharon Kivland, Jaspar Joseph Lester
This is the fourth volume published from the annual series of lectures organised by Sheffield Hallam University and Showroom Cinema, which features leading and emerging artists and other practitioners discussing their works in relation to a particular theme. This volume takes up two themes: Provenance, which generally means the place of origin, and here takes on rather more complex meanings in relation to art and art objects, and the market or value systems that contain them; and Inscription, which addresses the reading of works of art, when they are produced as texts or incorporate text within them. Also included is a symposium on Inscription. The Transmission series makes a significant contribution in mapping current debates about contemporary art. Contributors: Gabriel Gbadamosi, Christopher Landoni, Goshka Macuga, Elizabeth Price, Nigel Cooke, Julian Walker, Nick Stewart, Steve Edwards, Simon Morris, Victor Burgin, Mark Titchner, ArtLab, C. Cullinan and J. Richards, Lucy Harrison, Brigid McLeer, Vera Dieterich and Caroline Rooney, Jane Rendell, Sally O’Reilly, Pavel Büchler

Speaking and Listening Volume 3, Ornament and Utility/ Responsibility (ISBN 1899926518)
http://cornerhouse.org/books/info.aspx?ID=1604&page=0
Co-editors Emma Cocker, Sharon Kivland, Lesley Sanderson
Transmission: Speaking and Listening is an annual series of lectures organised by the Fine Art Department at Sheffield Hallam University, in collaboration with Site Gallery. Leading and emerging artists from the UK and abroad discuss their work in relation to a particular theme with an audience of students and the public. The discussions, with examples of the artists’ work and specially commissioned essays, are published each year and make a significant contribution to current debate about artistic practice. This volume, the third in the series, takes up two themes: Ornament and Utility, which addresses the question of aesthetic judgement and the use (or usefulness) of a work of art; and Responsibility, which considers the ideology of artistic production.Contributors: Jananne Al-Ani, David Bate, Kate Blacker, Kathrin Böhm, Pavel Büchler, Conroy / Sanderson, Mikey Cuddihy, Eggebert-and-Gould, Dan Hays, David Mabb, Monica Oechsler, Simon Periton, Paul Rooney, George Shaw, Sarah Staton, Jemima Stehli, Essays by Jeanne Randolph and David Thorp

I have had such plans before ...


Operating under a working title 'Not Yet There' my current research has emerged out of an ongoing archive of photographic images and short pieces of writing beginning in the 1990s. These visual and textual fragments relate to ongoing reflection and speculation about ideas connected to irresolution, failure and anti-climax; aimless wandering and spatial practices; restlessness and indecision; seriality and repetition; camouflage and formlessness; boredom, waiting and hesitation; as well as reflecting on the absurdity of encyclopaedic modes of definition and knowledge construction, and the difficulties of translation between textual, visual and cognitive modes of representation. The archive functions as part of a practice-based research methodology for the development of other writing about and as (art) practice; where an attempt is made to recover or recuperate a critical value for states of feeling or of the subjectively felt. The archive operates as a constant visual 'reminder' or residue of a thinking process where ideas emerge (at times unexpectedly) at the experiential interstice between self and the world; in the gap between what is 'real' and what is imagined, between the 'as is' and the 'as if'.

The archive has developed into a body of ongoing research that is concerned with, underpinned by or is at least drawn to particular recurrent ideas or concerns, certain theories and practices in relation to: wandering; waiting; hesitation; the notion of the fray; the endless quest; acts of following, getting lost or being led astray; repeated or Sisyphean tasks; failed attempts; deferred arrivals; indecision; the pleasure of unrewarded pursuit or search; the absurd or impossible obligation to a rule or arbitrary logic; the trace in a gesture of both criticality and compulsion; the desire for and fear of forgetting everything and starting all over again; foils and Macguffins; tangents and diversionary tactics; survival strategies and the potentiality of boredom; the partial and the provisional; the contingent and the unresolved; encyclopaedic systems that somehow slip out of sync; the idea of theory as a form of fiction, a way of telling tales; the lure and terror of the unknown; makeshift means for making sense of one’s place in the world;feeling overwhelmed, the experience of deflation and the event of anti-climax.

I suppose in many senses, my recent research and practice returns to some of the ideas that I was exploring during the 1990s, even as an undergraduate student. During this period (mid 1990s) my work focused on the difficulties felt in trying to translate feeling into a readable system of signs or langauge, and of both a desire and the failure to speak of the less definable elements of emotion and experience - desire, pain, boredom, restlessness. Early work such as 'Non-dictionary of Desire' employed anti-encyclopedic structures based on the random collision of text and image, whilst later work such as 'Desire to Know', presented small and urgent actions as a looped and endless cycle of failed searches and endless quests. I guess I was interested in trying to recuperate meaning for a particular language of desire or sensation or affect even, through performative works to camera - urgent searches for something which never find what they are looking for, and are forced to begin over and over, again and again.