Emma Cocker is a writer-artist based in Sheffield and Associate Professor in Fine Art, Nottingham Trent University. Emma's research focuses on artistic processes and practices, and the performing of ‘thinking-in-action’ therein. Her practice unfolds restlessly along the threshold between writing/art, including experimental, performative and collaborative approaches, alongside a mode of ‘contiguous writing’ — a way of writing-with that seeks to touch upon rather than being explicitly about. Her writing is 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; Reading/Feeling, 2013; On Not Knowing: How Artists Think, 2013; Choreo-graphic Figures: Deviations from the Line, 2017; The Creative Critic: Writing as/about Practice, and the solo collection, The Yes of the No, 2016. More recently, Emma trained to be a qualified yoga teacher, interested in how a heightened awareness of the body and breath, alongside meditation and attention practices, might be integrated into art-writing, artistic practice, pedagogy and research.

Investigating stillness

During September I was in Japan with Katie Doubleday from the Open City project for an Arts Council funded research trip, which extends the work I have recently been doing in collaboration with Open City. This will be a short joint investigation-led phase of research where I will be working further with Open City to explore notions of slowness and stillness, in order to ask questions about how space is conceptualized and organised, and examine the ways in which our daily performances are conditioned and perhaps even controlled. As part of this research phase we presented a paper at the Constructing Place symposium, which was part of the Dislocate festival in Yokohama. For our visit to Japan we also produced a number of new postcards, which presented a specific instruction relating to slowness or stillness on one side, and on the other part of a serialized essay in which I extended ideas from an earlier text I had been commissioned to write for Open City.

Image: Documentation of publicly sited postcards produced for dislocate festival

Within this phase of joint research we are interested in how both the shape and speed of our encounters with the world - and engagements with a given place or location- are often subjected to a kind of standardisation, where individual action is increasingly managed according to a regulated template - an agreed and endorsed temporal and behavioural pattern which we are then perhaps put under pressure to inhabit. We are interested in exploring ways of introducing flexibility, porosity or even moments of contingency into situations where our options for individual ‘performance’ might appear rather limited or predetermined, and in finding ways of creatively testing-out or playing with the expectations and demands of existing situations, suggesting ways in which they can be inhabited in different ways.

Image: Documentation of publicly sited postcards produced for dislocate festival

Our research trip to Japan was part of a period of joint research where we collectively wanted to further explore the possibilities of the different temporalities at play within the public realm, and to examine how movement and mobility might affect the way in which place and locality is encountered or understood. We were both interested in how different behavioural or performative speeds can be drawn attention to or inhabited, as a way of somehow resisting the pressure to perform or behave in homogenised ways. Our joint research as part of this phase of the project attempts to explore (quite speculatively) how moments of slowness, stillness, obstruction and blockage can be investigated to create points of anchor and location within the urban environment, affecting both a psychological and critical shift in the way that space is perceived.

Image: Documentation of publicly sited postcards produced for dislocate festival

At one level the dislocate festival provided a context in which to further consider the role of technology and new media in relation to these ideas – a frame of reference within which to think about the complex and often contradictory relationship between temporality, technology and the body. In one sense, technology has almost unquestionably come to be associated with the notion of accelerated speed and increased velocity, and has then often been discussed in terms of disembodiment and dislocation. In contrast perhaps, the temporal patterns of the body or of the physical world are frequently framed as operating naturally according to a slower pace where such slowness or even stillness is synonymous with or equated to an idea of embodiment and locatedness. Within this research we wanted to explore the point where the logic of these seemingly binary positions begins to collapse or blur, in order to ask whether certain technologies might in fact enable or even legitimise subversive or disruptive forms of performed slowness and stillness, and how, under scrutiny, these slower modes of spatial inhabitation can be revealed as a sites of perpetual and shifting meaning - where stillness is in fact rarely ever still.

Image: Documentation of dislocate presentation.

In our presentation for dislocate we wanted to test how spoken word and instruction (presented to participants using i-pod technology and wider publics through postcard texts) make it possible for different ideas and propositions to explored within the act of stillness itself, in order to invite physical, conceptual and imaginative engagement with the work. We wanted to explore notions of agency, authority and intention within the act of stillness. Through the use of the i-pods and spoken text (see image), we interrogated how the act of ‘being still’ might shift in meaning as it moves from or between different positions - ranging from a form of stillness experienced as a controlling or restrictive mode of enforced waiting; as a hopeful state of anticipation or of expectation; as an act of resistant refusal or protest; as a posture for quiet observation; as a tactic for disappearing or becoming invisible/unseen; as a ludic form of game-play; or as a site for contemplation or idle daydreaming.