Emma Cocker is a writer-artist based in Sheffield and Associate Professor in Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University. Operating under the title Not Yet There, Cocker's research focuses on the process of artistic exploration and the performing of ‘thinking-in-action’ emerging therein; on models of (art) practice and subjectivity that resist the pressure of a single, stable position by remaining wilfully unresolved. Her mode of working unfolds restlessly along the threshold between writing/art, including experimental, performative and collaborative approaches to producing texts parallel to and as art practice. Cocker's 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; Reading/Feeling (Affect), 2013; On Not Knowing: How Artists Think, 2013; Choreo-graphic Figures: Deviations from the Line, 2017; The Creative Critic: Writing as/about Practice, and as a solo collection entitled The Yes of the No, 2016.

PSi 16 Performing Publics

My paper Performing Stillness has been accepted as part of the Performing Publics conference taking place from 9–13 June 2010, Toronto, Canada

PSi 16, Performing Publics, will take place in Toronto as part of a collaboration between York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts and the Ontario College of Art & Design. The conference will investigate the power of performance to intervene in, reshape, and reinvigorate the public sphere at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We invite proposals that take up notions of “public” in a variety of ways, pointing to the critically generative and fraught aspects of the term as it has been adopted within performance studies. The conference will theorize the relationship between performance, “official” public culture (public culture framed and sanctioned by state and/or corporate institutions), and the production of what Michael Warner calls “counter-publics” (social formations developed in opposition to the discourses and interests of the official public sphere). As such, it will explore the coming together of individuals as a social totality – as a community, nation, organization, etc. – and the enactment of public as a form of social activism, as a means of rehearsing, querying, and producing alternative forms of local and global citizenship. In both contexts, performance has the potential to frame affective and critically nuanced responses to public events, issues and crises and thus to model politically and ethically engaged forms of public life. The conference also seeks to problematize the idea of “publics” as it has been applied to performance by exploring the limitations of this term and the kinds of social exclusions that it often has been used to rationalize.

Guiding questions will include: How are we hailed by various publics, and how does this shape our behaviors and social interactions? How are publics spatially and temporally constituted? In what ways do publics participate in forms of activism, civic engagement, and “poetic world-making” (Warner)? What affects and effects are produced by such utopian interventions? 

Performing Stillness
Reflecting on recent work by artist-led project, OpenCity, this paper interrogates how participatory performance-based interventions in the public realm contribute to the formulation of active – potentially resistant – forms of subjectivity and community, focusing specifically on the power of collective stillness or inaction for resisting the ideological expectations and pressures of ‘official’ public culture. Stillness and slowness are often presented as outmoded or anachronistic forms of mobility, antithetical to the velocity, speed and efficiency proposed by new technologies and the accelerated operations and interactions that temporally and spatially determine how public space and the lived environment are encountered. However, rather than understanding the performance of stillness as a counter-cultural strategy for ‘opting out’ of the accelerated narrative of contemporary society, this paper explores the potential within those forms of stillness specifically produced within and by this very context, examining how they might be (re)inhabited collectively as sites of critical action. With reference to the writing of Gilles Deleuze – especially in relation to Spinoza’s Ethics – the paper explores how the asignifying or affective possibilities produced by the collective performance of stillness can be understood as a mode of playful resistance to or refusal of habitual social norms. Whilst a critique or disruption of an existing social/behavioural paradigm, the performance of collective stillness also has the capacity to produce unexpected configurations of ‘community’ no longer bound by existing rules or protocol; a nascent ‘counter public’, ‘temporary invented community’ (Kwon, 2004) or even liminal form of ‘communitas’ (Turner,1982) momentarily united within the shared act of being still.