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.

Research event: Autotelic / Towards Play


Earlier in July I participated in Summer Lodge, an annual 2-week long residency taking place in the fine art studios at Nottingham Trent University. As part of this, I provided a contextual framework for the Lodge symposium which this year focused on the provocation 'Autotelic / Towards Play'.  

Autotelic / Towards Play
Summer Lodge symposium
Friday 6 July

Telos – with its etymological origins in the Greek télos (end), téleios (perfected) and teleîn (fulfillment) – refers to an ultimate object or aim, a specific end or purpose. In teleological terms, the value of action is essentially goal-oriented, determined in relation to achievement and attainment, the event of completion, of reaching the designed destination or target. Alternatively, autotelic (autos, ‘self’ and telos, ‘goal’) refers to an activity or a creative work that has an end or purpose in itself. Autotelic activities refuse the goal-oriented, reward-driven, outcome-motivated tendencies of contemporary culture. However, neither are they pitched in antagonistic relation to the idea of a goal or end: they are not against telos as such. Instead, autotelic activity has intrinsic meaning or purpose – internal to it, emerging through it – where the sense of its worth or value is not established or measured according to external criteria. Towards play: for this has no end or purpose other than itself, nor does ‘being in the zone’ - those ‘flow states’ of total absorption or immersion where action and awareness merge. Rather than choosing between outcome or open-ended activity, between process and product, an autotelic practice playfully navigates the spaces in-between, refusing the binary of either/or.

This year’s Summer Lodge symposium takes up the provocation Autotelic / Towards Play to explore ideas around playfulness and experimentation, immersion and absorption, inviting reflection on the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations at play within artistic practice, on striking the balance between working towards resolution whilst leaving things open.