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.

Say the Word - “Non”

The short text below was commissioned to respond to or act as a form of 'foil' for a performance by Terry O’Connor, Frances Babbage, Steve Nicholson and Bill McDonnell.

Image: Say the Word – Non, from rehearsals

The performance was part of a project led by Terry O'Connor entitled 'Say the Word' in which she invited various individuals to submit a single word that she would then develop performance-based work in response to. This specific performance was based on the following:

"On 26th October 2007 the French conceptual artist Sophie Calle sent a single word to Terry O’Connor in the School of English.

S. The word was ‘No’.
F. Actually it was ‘Non’, the French for ‘No’, written N.O.N.
S. And Sophie Calle sent a P.S. ‘P.S. this is my word, and it is not a refusal- see already how ambiguous is this word, since I’m saying yes by answering no. If you don’t like my word for some reasons tell me, I have other words in my vocabulary.’
F. This word became the starting point for the performance today. We began by collecting instances of refusal, denial and absence from literature, history and our own personal lives – instances that contain the short and simple word ‘No’."

The performance took place as part of the festival www.urbaines.ch. The individual artist/curator Simone Aughterley who selected this piece is a choreographer based in Switzerland. She chose three women artists- Terry O'Connor, UK artist Fiona Wright and the NZ dancer and artist Kate MckIntosh (who was recently performing in Nottingham as part of Nottdance 08.) Previous UK artists at des Urbaines are Franko B and Marisa Carnesky

I was invited to produce a text that attempted to explore some of the ideas addressed within the performance (text below). I wanted to use the text as an opportunity to further explore ideas in relation to refusal and potentiality, which I have also been exploring in other work such as the essay 'over and over, again and again', and within a prospective phase of new research entitled 'towards an ethics and aesthetics of non-production, inaction and refusal'.

" ‘Non’ - the French word meaning ‘no’. Look up the word in any dictionary and you will be told of its negative connotations; how it functions as an interjection that only refuses, denies or seeks to cancel out. It is an utterance that stands in the way of things or that declines to participate - a form of obstacle or dampening down, like the stubborn voice of the party pooper or killjoy for whom the glass remains half empty, never half full. Or else it expresses nothing but a deficiency or dearth, a lack or absence, the failure of something to materialise. It is the response dreaded by the unrequited lover, the puncture wound by which a proposal gets let down or loses it verve. It is the final call that brings about an end, the cruel blow that nips things in the bud, the cut by which hopes and dreams and nascent possibilities are dashed and then wither. Functioning as a measurement, it is the marker of all that is nonexistent, missing or simply not allowed. Alternatively, when taken as an instruction or a rule, it is the governing voice of restrictive authority that tells us what not to do, which attempts to silence or stop us still in our tracks. Or maybe it is the calling out of the mother whose child’s hand draws too close to the fire. How quickly a term can turn. As a protective intervention it can be seen as an ethical gesture that wishes to keep the other from harm’s way - an act of care or of responsibility, a pledge, a promise, or a commitment made. It is a way of stopping one flow of action in order to allow another to continue or to develop; an interruption based on being able to conceive an imagined future and the consequences of each individual act. Whilst the ‘yes’ of surrender can signal the passive and acquiescent acceptance of the seemingly inevitable, ‘no’ is a defiant gesture of protest that refuses to give up or give in. It is the rally cry of dissent, the declaration that enough is enough, that a line has been crossed, that things have gone too far.

The binary logic of opposites thus collapses in on itself. Here is the yes of the no, which is to inhabit the position of no in a way that allows, opens up or enables things to move forward, to move on. It is to inhabit the position of no as a form of punctuation or as a momentary pause, as a space of refusal and of potentiality, as a tactic for creating time to think and re-imagine the trajectory of future action. Look up a word in any dictionary but remember that definitions can be irredeemably imprecise, for meaning is never still, nor ever wholly certain. Consider ‘non’ - the French word meaning ‘no’." 

© Emma Cocker, 2008.

Being in Two Minds

Forthcoming conference paper
As part of the 35th AAH Conference "Intersections", at Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester
2 - 4 April 2009

Image: Ben Judd

Abstract: Being In Two Minds
This paper will examine the notion of being undecided or more particularly of ‘being in two minds’, questioning how this seemingly pejorative phrase might in fact function as a critical condition of both artistic practice and the process of thinking more broadly, and how this can then be located within a wider interdisciplinary interpretative (and theoretical) frame. In my recent research the notion of being undecided - through the tensions of deliberate or ‘critical’ inconsistencies within an artistic and writing practice, through contradictions or paradox, through undertaking an activity as a foil for something else, through occupying more than one or remaining in-between positions - has become increasingly fore-grounded. I am interested in how moments of doubt, indecision or deferral within practice perform the live event of thinking between different positions, how they operate at a threshold of potentiality before options are closed down or forever fixed one way or the other. Referring to work by Bas Jan Ader, Vlatka Horvat and Ben Judd, I want to further examine the different ways in which a sense of indecision, duality or even ambivalence is inhabited within these different practices and to what ends. Here, a form of secular agnosticism – the doubt that a particular question has a single correct answer or that a complete understanding of something can be attained – becomes tactically deployed as a way of refusing to commit to any singular position, disrupting the binary relationship of yes/no, either/or, by preferring the condition of ‘being both’.

The paper was proposed in response to the strand titled 'Inconsistency', which is convened by Steven Gartside, MIRIAD, Manchester Metropolitan University and 
Sam Gathercole, Department of English, Queen Mary, University of London

In writing on art and architecture there is often an implicit assumption of a necessary consistency in the work addressed. A similar consistency is expected of the writing itself. Consistency is a measure regularly employed in locating value in the object or text. Security is sought in the consistent. All of this leads to the notion that work reflects essential and immutable elements that are directly identifiable with the author/producer, and this in some way assures authenticity. The pressure for consistency is one that is exerted by the terms of professionalism (whether that is the commercialism of the marketplace, or the structures that determine artistic, architectural and academic careers and reputations). The pressure for consistency is also one that might be seen to undermine the intersections of practice and theory that inform any action or statement (or, indeed, any gesture of refusal). Work that does not fit an established pattern can be sidelined as of little importance, even though it can often provide useful indications of thought process or method. It is also possible that inconsistency can be seen itself as a fundamental part of experimentation, and a productive way of exploring new ground. 

The strand seeks to question the notion of consistency as an illusional, or possibly even delusional state. It will explore all aspects of inconsistency in the production of art and architecture, its critical and public reception, as well as in the different forms of writing about work.

Somehow between the Water and the Wind

I have been invited to write a text in response to a forthcoming exhibiton, Isoli [cont], by Brigid McLeer in Coventry.

                                                   Image: Brigid McLeer, Isoli [cont.] 

Below is the PDF of my essay 'Somewhere between the water and the wind' written in response to the work of Brigid McLeer

Press Release

Isoli [cont.]
Works by Brigid Mc Leer Lanchester Gallery Projects, Coventry School of Art & Design
9th – 30th January 2009.
Isoli [cont.] is a solo exhibition by Brigid Mc Leer which brings together recent work, current work in progress and a related work from 1997 all of which explore contingency – as a method of production, an aesthetic form and as a way of thinking about subject formation. The work aims to question the notion of the ‘individual’ as an ideal construct, and to draw attention to the extent to which investment in the individual prefigures many of the more damaging tenets of capitalism. Instead it proposes contingency as a founding, and preferable, state of being and society. The works in Isoli [cont.] circle around a set of pieces made while on residency at San Servolo island in Venice (Summer 2007). San Servolo housed the Veneto region psychiatric hospital for 250 years until it was closed in the 1970s. The ‘islands’ (isoli) of the title therefore refer both to the literal island of San Servolo, the carceral ‘island’ of the psychiatric institution and the supposed island of the individual. Having a continual interest in process, Mc Leer’s current work consists of extensive, durational and laborious activities of solitary writing or drawing that translate particular sources. Strongly influenced by the systems-based, repetitive and serial strategies of minimalist and structuralist art, film and literature, this new work inserts into this pure, and often masculinist dream, a labouring, st(r)aining body, that is also producer of ‘images’- of reconfigurations within the contested terrain of representation. As with much structuralist and poststructuralist work, individual ‘expression’ is superseded through the use of procedural approaches. The intention however is not to evacuate the work/world of a subject, but rather to demonstrate the inherent interdependency of both. Many of the works use a rule-bound method to transform particularly chosen sources (texts, sites, images). This process is often recorded - in video, sound or still photography - and these ‘records’ are reconfigured to become new works in their own right. As such the figure of the artist herself operates as an equivocal presence in the work, caught up in the representational realm that she is also producing. Activities such as drawing over the moving shadow cast by the sun shining through San Servolo’s original hospital gate (Isola:Incontro, 2007), or the writing-out over and over themselves of all the words listed under ‘a’, ‘b’ ‘c’ etc. in a dictionary (Concise Chambers 2008), or the gradual erasure (using masking fluid) of every word, except the capital letter ‘I’s, in Kobo Abe’s 1964 novel The Face of Another (The Face of Another 2009), are all simple repeated procedures which not only develop complex reconfigurations of texts or sites, but also establish a temporal field of labour or production. In Mc Leer’s most recent, and most ambitious object-based work to date, The Face of Another (cont. version), the doors of a 8’5” corten steel shipping container become a free-standing ‘wall’ and site for the installation of 16 pieces of 2’ x 2’ hand-engraved sheet copper. The copper itself bears a pattern of interconnecting ‘I’s (taken from Abe’s novel) and the tarnishing sweat marks and hand-prints of the body that drew them. Together the elements invoke the co-dependency of the individual and high-capitalist global trade, at the same time as they perform new, and more productive versions of dependence. Contingent versions: archipelagos. Working through literal, metaphoric and synecdochical modes the work offers, and at the same time, disrupts signification. A name therefore could be both a person and a shape; or sheet copper could be a reflective surface, a quotation of a minimalist work by Carl Andre and a market commodity; or a videoed action could be a record of time spent working in a site and a time-based image entirely implacable and ectopic. In addition the work is made of multiple, interconnecting parts or series and in continually modified versions. So it is always work in progress and as such the defiance of the island/individual and/as the (art)object is encountered, contested and made contingent. Cont. The exhibition is accompanied by a publication with a commissioned essay by Emma Cocker.

Brigid Mc Leer is an Irish artist living in London and Course Director of Fine Art BA at Coventry School of Art & Design. She trained in Fine Art at University of Ulster, Belfast and Slade School of Art, London. Her work takes many forms including gallery and site-based visual artwork, image-text work for the page, critical and creative writing, and collaborative projects. Recent exhibitions include, group shows ‘Drawing Breath’ at Lugar Do Desenho, Foundation of Julio Resende, Porto, Portugal and ‘L’Isola Di’, at San Servolo Island, Venice, Italy and solo show Vexations as part of ‘Site Platform’, Site Gallery, Sheffield. Forthcoming shows include The Face of Another as part of ‘Curating Knowledge’, Alsager Arts Centre, MMU (March 09) and ‘Unspeaking Engagements’ group show curated by Brian Curtin and Steve Dutton for Chulalongkorn University Gallery, Bangkok (October 09).