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.

No Longer and Not Yet

The text below has been written for this year's NTU degree show catalogue.

"The conclusion is the event whose occurrence brings about the end; it is a point of resolution that draws the experimentation to a close. An answer has been found, a result gleaned, a decision made. Conclusions often rest upon the production of something definitive, something certain. They describe the final chapter of the thesis, which attempts to draw together the loose ends, to smooth out or reconcile the differences or inconsistencies within an argument or investigation. Here, the indeterminate or unruly meanderings of an enquiry become dutifully reined in or stilled, where the restless activity of a thinking process is required to steady itself, to fix upon its goal. Conclusions can terminate the trajectory of a given episode of time or line of narrative – they are the final scene; the end of an era, the protagonist’s last breath. However, within art practice conclusions are rarely definitive or final, but rather present as provocation for future action or as moments of pause within a never-ending permutational chain of possibilities. Enquiries become shaped into one form, before being collapsed back once again for the process to begin afresh. The fine art degree show itself should be seen in such terms – less a marker of closure as an opening out into the space of the future. It is a double-headed arrow – pointing back towards the creative labour of production and of thinking, and forward as a promise of what might still be to come. It signals and celebrates the results of an imaginative process that has already taken place but significantly is also charged with potential.

 

Strictly speaking, the degree show is not an ending at all, rather a space of transition, of new beginnings. It is the visual manifestation of a rite of passage according to whose terms art students exit the realm and restrictions of the university to navigate their way into the world beyond. The duration of the degree show is a zone of expectant limbo. We are between times no longer and not yet. However, this rite of passage is not just about the initiate (student) increasing their status on the hierarchical ladder of social standing, of graduating into the employment ranks of the ‘with honours’. Rather, an (art) education has the capacity to function in more critical terms. For social anthropologist Victor Turner, universities should be understood as ‘liminoid’ settings or as an ‘antistructure’ capable of generating alternative ways of being and thinking to the mainstream or habitual. Whilst the liminal experience often reinforces and works with existing social hierarchies, Turner argues that, “liminoid phenomena … are often parts of social critiques or even revolutionary manifestos … exposing the injustices, inefficiencies, and immoralities of the mainstream economic and political structure.”[i] Rather than being easily unquestionably assimilated back into the existing social order then, the critical subject produced through the liminoid experience has the capacity to conceive of things differently or invite change they have a transformative potential. It is this questioning potential that a fine art course hopes to nurture. Undoubtedly, there will be those for whom the degree show will function as the final conclusion to their practice, indeed those for whom the art degree itself is valued only for its transferable properties in an ever competitive job market. However, perhaps there will also be others for whom the experience will continue to function as a provocation or as the catalyst to go out and make things (differently)."




[i] Victor Turner, From Ritual to Theatre, The Human Seriousness of Play, (PAJ Publications, New York, 1982), pp.54-55

(not) new work

I am currently developing ideas for the publication which is being produced through collaboration with other art-writers/artists as part of the Critical Communities project.

Re: Writing
Abstract:
In the process of writing about other things I have noticed that there are often these embedded fragments, half sentences and curious revelations that seem to simultaneously describe or equate to the act of writing itself, and the struggle therein. I want to use the publication as an opportunity to produce a piece of writing that is perhaps approaching an idea of practice. I am interested in recycling or reusing text fragments from existing work. I want to return to earlier writing and rescue fragments that had perhaps seemed incidental or unremarkable and collate them as a litany of reflections on writing, on writing as a practice. I am interested in the way that this format will ultimately allow me to bring fragments of ‘academic’ writing into proximity with material that is rather more personal, doubtful or which has hitherto remained hidden. I want to find a way of introducing a sense of inconsistency or contradiction or a feeling of moving between critical, philosophical or even theoretically (sounding) fragments and those which speak much more about a feeling of a love affair with the process of writing, or of the inevitable experience of failure or inability or inadequacy encountered in the process of trying to write about art practice. It is a rule based piece I suppose – the rule being (not new work) or (nothing new). I suppose the other rule I am considering is in terms of the length of the text – which is going to use the 'rule' inherent within the brief which is to produce a piece of writing with an upper limit of ‘2000 words’.

(sample excerpt below)

Re: Writing

(1) I am not sure how to begin; (2) It is certainly taking the shape of words; (3) However this is subject to revision; (4) Categories quiver at the point of collapse; (5) Trying to produce some other way of adequately describing the experience; (6) I am hesitant in speaking the words out loud; (7) Without due care things might spiral out of control; (8) She begins. The pages tremble; (9) Subject position is cast adrift; (10) Words unfurl, not knowing how they got there; (11) Uneven and discontinuous; (12) Always out of reach; (13) Full of holes; (14) A tender documentary residue; (15) Not so much a beginning then as a suture; (16) It is a liquid state or heavy like an industrial accident; (17) In which the seams remain critically visible; (18) Unassuming moments when nothing happens; (19) Breaks things down but also leaves them open; (20) Bringing into crisis, intensively, with care; (21) Within the limited constraints of a given language; (22) Things remain insensible or nameless; (23) I won’t play by their rules; (24) Pushing at the edges of one meaning whilst holding back the terms of another; (25) Worried until they begin to recombine differently; (26) In a more contingent, disruptive manner; (27) Complicate the possibility of arriving at a single answer; (28) But rather to conceive of new names; (29) By reassembling its languages into counter-narratives; (30) Always happening in the present; (31) It is impossible to ever exactly duplicate an action; (32 The discrepancy between what is visible and what is not; (33) I feel something; (34) Flutter-flutter; (35) Wanting more; (36) To feel its letters over my tongue; (37) I try to take it all in at once; (38) It is in these things that I remember; (39) I have not forgotten; (40) A graft of something already existing; (41) Meaning to try, a tentative attempt; (42) As an echo or vibration drawn and performed through the body; (43) Clandestine love affairs with another’s thoughts; (44) Once uttered they become rather hard to delete or forget; (45) Each bringing the other into being; (46) Silences that mark unexpected endings; (47) Ideas buried beneath the surface; (48) They seem to resist forming words; (49) Instead bleed across one another; (50) Contiguity is only ever a form of being in contact with; (51) Rather than unnecessary interference at its periphery; (52) Both a spatial form and a temporal event; (53) A pivot about which things turn; (54) Proposing tangents to be – both literally and literarily – followed; (55) Haunted by memories of earlier inhabitations; (56) Whether this thought can be mine alone; (57) A memorial to those unspoken; (58) By one’s own volition; (59) Like the nagging of an obsessive’s itch; (60) Intellectual holes that may well be revealed in time; (61) I feel duly torn in two; (62) Not wholly knowing how to respond; (63) It is not that easy; (64) Something has been left unsaid; (65) Sometimes a foil is needed through which to conjure reflection; (66) Language can be irredeemably imprecise; (67) In a language that cannot be read; (68) Only infrequently captures the experience of the moment; (69) I am letting you in; (70) As a process for producing tangential experiences; (71) I am willing it to happen soon; (72) An intuition for knowing when to yield; (73) Touching upon; (74) There can only be so many ways of saying the same thing; (75) Yet there is an inherent incompleteness in the task at hand; (76) Dialogue broken, a sentence stalled; (77) A speechless mode of incommunicable proximity; (78) A mode of attendance or attention; (79) The prospect of hearing me on your lips; (80) As closely as possible; (81) Logic might become frayed; (82) Thoughts well in my head, heavy and meaningless; (83) A kind of restlessness; (128) I have had such thoughts before; (84) Being struck by something; (85) In case of an emergency to let in breath; (86) A desire to avoid the temptation to simply repeat; (87) Making blind leaps into darkness; (88) Stammering in the path of understanding’s procedural flight; (89) Resilient sites of criticality; (90) That emerge simultaneously; (91) An action is required; (92) Proximity to the work does not guarantee any certainty or assuredness; (93) Conditions; (94) Refusing to play by the terms of existing power relations; (1) The cycle of iteration begins again once more; (95) The notion of the telos is often rejected or sabotaged; (96) Beyond words as such; (97) Without obligation; (98) The continual reconfiguration of the rules of engagement; (99) Between producing illumination and further opacity; (100) Before other meanings have begun to fully form

As part of the project we have responded to the abstract's of each other ... here is an excerpt from the response to my work from Nathan Walker :

"Into Suspension. Re guarding. Guarding. Taking all that stuff and re-cognising it. Because there is so much writing in the world the job is not to make more but to construct new texts out of the ones that already exist. This is working clever. Emma is removing the specificity and allowing for a kind of openness. In context. Emma is not producing academic writing. This is practice. This material is different material. Like instead of a new quilt we have a patchwork. Instead of starting again Emma is sifting, dealing (like we deal with cards) with the writing stuff. Emma is interested in plagiarism. The thief. Les Voleurs. Stealing your own work and writing into it. Saying things without knowing what your saying. Arrows. Indexically. Storage space. Holding space. Writing about one thing and it really is writing about an other thing. The stuff behind the words. The reclamation of recycled materials that perform the space of writing. This is about the process of writing itself. The struggle within the labor of practice. The hesitation, the deliberation of practice. The fragile moments of writing. Foil the goal. No goal. Own Goal. Re-Writing. Re(ally)Writing"

Still

I have been invited to extend my essay 'From Passivity to Potentiality: The Communitas of Stillness' into a longer text, as part of a book proposal being made to the Routledge International Library of Sociology series. More to follow soon.

Inconsistency as strategy

Here is an outline of my revised conference paper to be delivered as part of the 35th AAH Conference "Intersections", at Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, 2 - 4 April 2009 (original abstract and context for the paper can be found here). Extracts from the paper and an interview (with Ben Judd) undertaken as part of the research can be found on Ben Judd's website under Interviews and Texts.


Image: Ben Judd, The Symbol, 2009

This paper explores how the seemingly undesirable presence of ‘inconsistency’ can function within artistic practice as a way to strategically resist, refuse or even attempt to revoke the societal pressure to perform in a consistent manner or from a single, stable position - according to expectation, convention or the norm [...] Arguably, the interrogation of inconsistency requires that certain conceptualizations of both subjectivity and knowledge to be brought into question or challenged – it is a term of ethical and epistemological import. What is at stake in thinking through the terms of inconsistency, perhaps, is the question of what it might mean to be, and in turn how this contingent (inconsistent) experience becomes subjected - even subjugated - to various forms of translation, definition or homogenous representation. Inconsistency, in this sense, is not only a necessary part of practice and thinking - which perhaps disappears as things approach resolution - but can also be deployed strategically as a way of subverting, challenging or resisting the ‘pressure of consistency’ or of conformity, of expectation or of homogeneity. My attempt then is to propose a critical function for inconsistency where it shifts from meaning a mode of dithering or incoherence (a deficiency on the part of the individual) towards a mode of agnosticism or questioning that deliberately reveals the impossibility (or illusionary nature) of singular and stable positions (and which in turn points towards the deficiency of various systems of belief, classification or representation). Here, agnosticism is put forward as a critical form of uncertainty, the doubt that a particular question or problem has a single correct answer or that a complete understanding of something can be attained. Here, agnosticism is a mode for addressing the experience or perhaps even the problem of being human, by insisting on the inadequacy of any single or consistent model of its representation.

My encounters with various artists (including Ben Judd, Vlatka Horvat, Dutton + Swindells) have enabled an understanding of inconsistency to develop where it shifts from a mode of refusal (of a binary logic or of the tyranny of consistency) to one of possibility (a form of affirming multiplicity and productive heterogeneity). In this paper, I want to indicate four (overlapping) models of inconsistency emerging within specific artists’ practice – inconsistency as shimmer (being both, remaining in between); inconsistency as the flagging of possibilities; inconsistency as impasse or obstacle (as an aporetic stammer); and inconsistency as rupture (the emergence of the unexpected). In each model of inconsistency, the underlying struggle perhaps is to question or refuse the dominant pressure towards consistency or homogenization especially in relation to the experience of self and its subsequent representation. Inconsistency is a way of resisting or rejecting consistency as the desirable paradigm, a device or tactic for thwarting the easy assimilation of complex human experiences into a single or stable position. It reveals the inadequacy or fallacy of existing systems of classification or representation, whilst simultaneously attempting to rupture such systems in the pursuit of something new. Inconsistency describes a mode of restlessness, of being critical of or frustrated with existing options; of relentlessly searching for or trying to produce some other way of adequately describing the experience of being"