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.

At the margins of intelligibility

I have been commissioned to write an essay on the work of Dutton+Swindells for a forthcoming catalogue/publication about their practice.

"Contradictory words seem a little crazy the logic of reason, and inaudible for him who listens with readymade grids, a code prepared in advance […] One must listen … differently in order to hear an ‘other meaning’ which is constantly in the process of weaving itself, at the same time ceaselessly embracing words and yet casting them off to avoid being fixed, immobilized." Luce Irigarary

        Image: Dutton + Swindells

This text is underpinned by the dilemma – even my anxiety – of being asked to write about an art practice whose signature is one of incomprehensibility and contradiction. It follows an extended period of discussion with the artists, Dutton + Swindells, where my role has been one of trying to ‘make sense’ of their practice – develop an understanding or rather an apprehension of it – whilst resisting the temptation to make ‘sense’  – rationalize or explain – through the writing subsequently produced. The text itself has emerged slowly, awkwardly, as I have struggled to find words or ways to speak about a practice that is critically aligned to a certain kind of muteness. It attempts – acknowledging the paradoxical nature of the task ahead – to say without wholly saying; to speak without speaking for; to comprehend the work by recognizing the power of the incomprehensible therein. The phrase ‘beyond comprehension’ is often used pejoratively, as an expression of disbelief or frustration when something cannot be made sense of or appears to lack meaning or rationale. It is synonymous with all that is baffling, impenetrable, inscrutable, unintelligible or as clear as mud. However, there is also an archaic meaning for the term where it describes the condition of limitlessness or the state of being boundless; of something existing beyond one’s grasp, beyond capture. The incomprehensible is thus that which fails to communicate or be clearly understood at the same time as that which resists or exceeds existing definition. It is marked then by the dual possibilities of deficit and excess, refusal and promise. Dutton + Swindells play with these dual possibilities, attempting to harness the affects of the former in the hope of conjuring the latter. They make work that is tactically incomprehensible in the attempt to summon or create the conditions for an encounter with that which is beyond the terms of what is already known. How then to speak of such a practice? This text attempts to occupy the threshold between speaking and not-speaking-for, between attempting to make sense of the work, yet at the same time remaining faithful - or demonstrating fidelity - to the work’s incomprehensibility, its contradictions. My plan then is to explore the nature of the endeavour within Dutton + Swindells’ practice - its tactics, manoeuvres and operations - and largely leave the work produced to speak - or indeed remain mute – for itself, to articulate its own terms.


     Images: Dutton + Swindells

The full essay will form part of a catalogue/book which will be published by Site Gallery later in 2009. Below is a PDF of the text.