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.

All Noble Pursuits

'All Noble Pursuits' is a developing list of impossible, improbable, abstract or absurd quests and searches. Drawing together the factual and fictional, the searches in the list operate at the point where ‘legitimate research activity’ collapses into the quest for rather more indefinable or speculative (or alternatively Romantic or even quixotic) objectives: the search for everything; final meaning; the real self; love; a third way; extraterrestrial intelligence; individualized therapies; a shared moral order; the perfect drug; hope, faith, and a six-second ride; the origins of his evil; the best strain of bees; the real and right; the missing science of consciousness; distant relatives; a patriarchal ideal; common ground; selective interventions; labour-saving inventions; treasure on a desert island; the Cheddar Man.

Image: still/slide from 'All Noble Pursuits'

This is an ongoing multi-format project which attempts to decontextualise and release the process of exploration from its teleological goal, by liberating existing searches from a sense of definite purpose, enabling them to remain irresolvable or unattainable.

Contradictory words seem a little crazy

I am increasingly interested in returning to exploring text as a site of practice or at least as a space for testing out some of the ideas I am interrogating within a range more conventionally 'academic' texts. There is the danger that I had begun to forget how important this (usually hidden and invariably sporadic) activity is as part of my practice. I had been thinking about the role of these 'other' forms of writing/text during the 'Host Observatory' project, when I had been writing semi-publicly in a different manner to how I might habitually present text. Below is a rendition of a rather old work, which I think operates in this hybrid space between a form of practice and a visual 'thinking through of ideas' which have become central to some of my more recent work.

Images: 'Contradictory words seem a little crazy', installation diagrams, 1997

Here, practice is part of a research methodology for other writing or thinking, rather than an end in itself (again rather like that produced during the Host project). It functions a little like the role of the Macguffin (discussed in other pieces of writing) as a vehicle which essentially kick starts the plot but then perhaps disappears from the centre stage. This particular piece draws on a quote from Luce Irigaray from 'This Sex which is not one', and was exhibited as part of Site and Sound in 1997 (Site Gallery and various off-site locations), and later as part of the Islington International Festival, London, 1998. Different coloured light unscrambles different parts and patterns in a grid of letters, allowing different meanings, hidden messages to be read. Manipulating and breaking patterns of communication, language begins to operate within a different set of rules. No longer carrier of meaning its lines of communication can be broken down, transgressed or somehow rendered void. The actual work was a shop window based text installation which could be viewed from the street after dusk.

Perform Every Day

Book review of Perform Every Day, Joshua Sofaer
This artist's book seeks to establish a relationship between everyday actions and performance. It encourages us to go about our daily routine, as if it were a work of art.

"At times, the line between the critical and the cathartic gesture becomes blurred. There is sometimes little to distinguish the self-consciously resistant or creative action from a form of involuntary survival strategy or ‘coping’ mechanism. Certain actions are wilfully staged whilst others are performed compulsively in order to simply get through the day, where they are used to create individual ‘meaning’ in otherwise meaningless situations. Imaginative projections and daydreaming arguably present one of the more viable options through which one can try to escape or subvert a given reality. Here, dreams of utopia might reflect the measure of an individual’s present dissatisfaction, frustration and discontent. Small acts of resistance are also a way through which to protest against the increasingly controlled and legislated conditions of existence, where they function as slight or quiet performative acts of societal rebellion that - though predominantly impotent, ineffective or insignificant - remind us still that we have some agency and might not always need to wholly and passively acquiesce [...] The book, Perform Every Day, increasingly made me think about the difference between instructions and invitations, between obligations and provocations, and about the difference between telling someone to act and asking them to imagine. Instructions can be nurturing or protective; pedagogical or didactic; authoritative or legislative. Too often there is a sense that they are offered by a ‘knowing’ authority where they are seen as something you should do for your own good (thus containing both a sense of threat and promise). I guess that the ‘invitation’ is hopeful rather than assured. Rather than abandoning responsibility by being told what to do, the possibility of acceptance or rejection reaffirms a sense of individual agency by allowing the individual to choose whether, in fact, they are interested or perceive any value in the experience being offered. The invitation that is to be imaginatively performed is particularly resonant because there is never any real way of truly telling whether (and how) it has been realised."

Read more here

Borrowed Itineraries and Retraced Steps

University of Nottingham, 30 April 2008, 4.30pm

Image: Stanley Brouwn. This Way Brouwn

In this presentation I am proposing to reflect on diverse practices which, in different ways, explore the performative model of wandering by following another (either in the present or from the past) or by following another’s instructions. I am interested in how such practices operate at a curious interstice between the conceptual paradigm of rule-based or instructional activity on the one hand or alternatively can be read through rather more psychologically inflected ideas around disorientation, depaysément and the desire for getting lost. I am interested in the tension as the ‘loss of responsibility’ or anti-subjective possibilities of working to a rule or an order also have the capacity to increase chance and uncertainty within an action, whilst the gesture of presenting a challenge to individual agency might paradoxically result in a reinforced awareness of individual embodiment and selfhood. Referring to a range of artists including Stanley Brouwn, Vito Acconci, Sophie Calle, Heather and Ivan Morison, Lucy Harrison, Tacita Dean ... my aim is to sketch out possible connections between surrealist practices and more recent interest in acts of wandering - in artistic practices from the late 1950s onwards and especially in connection to contemporary art. The presentation draws on a number of recently published essays which have explored some of these ideas including 'The Art of Misdirection' (2007), 'Desiring to be Led Astray' (2007) and the forthcoming 'Not Yet There: Endless searches and irresolvable quests' which will be published as part of Telling Stories (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2008/9)

Further information about the NIRVC programme click here

Recent presentations include:
* March 5, Anna Lovatt, (University of Nottingham), 'Self-Portraiture and De-Facement in Conceptual Art'
* April 23 : Ed Krcma, (University College, London), "Liquidity: Beuys, Drawing and 'Material Imagination'."
* April 30, Emma Cocker (Nottingham Trent University), 'The Art of Misdirection: Borrowed Itineraries and Retraced Steps'
* May 7 : Mark Godfrey, (Tate Gallery, London), 'Roni Horn's Icelandic Encyclopaedia'