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.

At the margins of intelligibility

I have been commissioned to write an essay on the work of Dutton+Swindells for a forthcoming catalogue/publication about their practice.

"Contradictory words seem a little crazy the logic of reason, and inaudible for him who listens with readymade grids, a code prepared in advance […] One must listen … differently in order to hear an ‘other meaning’ which is constantly in the process of weaving itself, at the same time ceaselessly embracing words and yet casting them off to avoid being fixed, immobilized." Luce Irigarary

        Image: Dutton + Swindells

This text is underpinned by the dilemma – even my anxiety – of being asked to write about an art practice whose signature is one of incomprehensibility and contradiction. It follows an extended period of discussion with the artists, Dutton + Swindells, where my role has been one of trying to ‘make sense’ of their practice – develop an understanding or rather an apprehension of it – whilst resisting the temptation to make ‘sense’  – rationalize or explain – through the writing subsequently produced. The text itself has emerged slowly, awkwardly, as I have struggled to find words or ways to speak about a practice that is critically aligned to a certain kind of muteness. It attempts – acknowledging the paradoxical nature of the task ahead – to say without wholly saying; to speak without speaking for; to comprehend the work by recognizing the power of the incomprehensible therein. The phrase ‘beyond comprehension’ is often used pejoratively, as an expression of disbelief or frustration when something cannot be made sense of or appears to lack meaning or rationale. It is synonymous with all that is baffling, impenetrable, inscrutable, unintelligible or as clear as mud. However, there is also an archaic meaning for the term where it describes the condition of limitlessness or the state of being boundless; of something existing beyond one’s grasp, beyond capture. The incomprehensible is thus that which fails to communicate or be clearly understood at the same time as that which resists or exceeds existing definition. It is marked then by the dual possibilities of deficit and excess, refusal and promise. Dutton + Swindells play with these dual possibilities, attempting to harness the affects of the former in the hope of conjuring the latter. They make work that is tactically incomprehensible in the attempt to summon or create the conditions for an encounter with that which is beyond the terms of what is already known. How then to speak of such a practice? This text attempts to occupy the threshold between speaking and not-speaking-for, between attempting to make sense of the work, yet at the same time remaining faithful - or demonstrating fidelity - to the work’s incomprehensibility, its contradictions. My plan then is to explore the nature of the endeavour within Dutton + Swindells’ practice - its tactics, manoeuvres and operations - and largely leave the work produced to speak - or indeed remain mute – for itself, to articulate its own terms.


     Images: Dutton + Swindells

The full essay will form part of a catalogue/book which will be published by Site Gallery later in 2009. Below is a PDF of the text.

Classical Myth/Contemporary Art

My essay, Over and Over, Again and Again, is going to be published in the forthcoming book, Classical Myth/Contemporary Art which has secured Ashgate Press as its publisher (more information to follow soon). My essay explores various practices in relation to the myth of Sisyphus (more information here).

    Image: Vlatka Horvat - Restless

‘Over And Over, Again And Again’ represents The Potentiality of Failure, a sub-section of my broader enquiry, Not Yet There (http://www.not-yet-there.blogspot.com/), which posits a critical value for failure as resistance to or refusal of the dominant progressive, teleological or goal-oriented tendencies of contemporary experience. The contribution to knowledge is the elaboration of a specifically Sisyphean model of failure, for investigating irresolution and incompletion as purposeful, generative strategies within artistic practice. A  4000-word excerpt has subsequently been published in Failure (ed.) Lisa Le Feuvre (Whitechapel Gallery/MIT, 2010); a survey collection including contributions by world-leading thinkers including Giorgio Agamben, Samuel Beckett, Gilles Deleuze and artists John Baldessari, Francis AlΓΏs, Fischli & Weiss and Bruce Nauman.

The chapter’s ideas have been tested at international conferences (PSi # 15 Misperformance: Misfiring, Misfitting, Misreading, Zagreb, 2009) and interviews conducted during the research have been published (‘Flagging Possibilities’, in conversation with Vlatka Horvat', Dance Theatre Journal, 2009). An essay on Horvat’s practice was included in a monograph (In Other Words …, Bergen Kunsthalle, 2011). Parallel investigations have since interrogated the critical potential of failure, irresolution and accident as ‘tactical’ methods within artistic practice including: (Re) performance lecture in collaboration with Rachel Lois Clapham in Accidentally on Purpose, Quad, 2013, ‘Moves Towards the Incomprehensible Wild’ journal article in art+research (2011) addressing the critical efficacy of incomprehensibility within artistic practice through the prism of Alain Badiou’s philosophy; ‘Not Yet There: Endless Searches and Irresolvable Quests’ book chapter in Telling Stories: Countering Narrative in Art, Theory and Film (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009); and ‘Salvaging a Romantic Trope’ book chapter in Shipwreck in Art and Literature (Routledge, 2013).

Between wandering and waiting

            Image: Roman Ondak, Good Feelings in Good Times

I am in the process of further developing a phase of research activity that investigates the creative and critical value of forms of non-production within artistic and performance-based practice, and which will be used as a way of refocusing some of the ideas that have been emerging over the last few years within my practice. This research area is a distillation of a number of concerns emerging within my ongoing art-writing practice, Not Yet There. This broader enquiry explores how irresolution, uncertainty, disorientation and the process of ‘getting lost’ can be discussed as strategic conditions of artistic practice, by attempting the critical recuperation/interrogation of subjectively-felt experiences such as failure, deferral, disappointment, boredom, indecision, restlessness. 

Emerging from my own practice – and the questions/struggle therein – my research explores the critical value of those moments before a decision/resolution has been reached and the points at which ‘thinking’ is activated/provoked within practice. My practice is concerned with prolonging, emphasising and honouring this space of indeterminacy or potentiality in order to investigate the specific qualities of the critical ‘thinking’ that precedes – or might indeed be different to – ‘knowledge’. My work attempts to shift attention from the deliberate (directly purposeful) to the process of deliberation (care/weighing-up) insisting that purpose or meaning might not always be synonymous with the notion of achieving a ‘goal’.

Critical Communities

I have been selected to take part in the writing-based project, Critical Communities.

Critical Communities is a dialogue, discussion and writing project that will explore and expand what it means to be critical in writing on and as new work (live and interdisciplinary art). Its purpose it to explore and discuss contemporary notions of the critical and the role of critical writing in relation to new work. The project will culminate in a print-on-demand publication, produced by the writers and artists involved in Critical Communities, to be published in 2009.

The Yorkshire Critical Community includes Rachel Lois Clapham, Emma Cocker, Amelia Crouch, Joanna Loveday, Charlotte Morgan and Nathan Walker. With special guest provocateurs Sohail Khan, Alfredo Cramerotti and Derek Horton.

The London Critical Community includes Emma Bennett, David Berridge, Chloe Dechery, Rikke Hansen, Tim Jeeves, Emma Leach, Bill Leslie, Johanna Linsley, Mary Paterson, Jim Prevett and Cally Spooner.

Together the participants represent a community of new work/writing practitioners who will meet regularly in London and Yorkshire to discuss notions of 'the critical' in relation to critical writing both on and as new work. We will be critiquing our own art/writing and that of others, examining alternate critical modes both on and off the page and collaboratively developing a publication. The community will also act as a sustained network for experimental writing/new work practitioners in the London and Yorkshire areas.

Critical Communities has been developed by Open Dialogues and New Work Network (NWN) and is supported by East Street Arts, The London Consortium and Space Studios.

The Communitas of Stillness

My essay 'From Passivity to Potentiality: The Communitas of Stillness' has been accepted in the forthcoming issue of the peer-reviewed online journal m/c. The issue is entitled. Still (more information below). The essay explores recent research with Open City on the notion of stillness and can be found here.

Image: documentation from Open City (Andrew Brown / Katie Doubleday), 
Radiator festival, 2009

“This paper presents the concept of stillness through the affirmative
 Spinozist lens of the ‘positive 
possibilities of life’. It expands existing research around this very
 fertile arena of 
trans-disciplinary thought by examining the affects of publicly sited 
performance […] A timely piece that 
addresses a certain mode of social engagement of vernacular life that has become a public platform
 for other activities.” Reviewers’ comments.

"For Emma Cocker, the significance of collective acts of still have the capacity to augment the affectual capacity of the body. Here, experimental practices of still in the city constitute events of resistance that disrupt habitual modalities of inhabiting the city, producing fissures within which new lines of flight can emerge. Such deliberative attunement through collective practices of still produces an affirmative model of subjectivity; a challenge to the choking assemblages of governance that stratify bodies." Editors' introduction

Referring to my collaboration with the artist-led project, Open City, I will investigate the (im)mobility of stillness as a creative strategy. I will explore the potential of an active and resistant – rather than passive or acquiescent – form of stillness that can be activated strategically within a performance-based practice; in turn producing conditions in which a radically dissenting – yet affirmative – model of subjectivity might be developed. Stillness is often presented as antithetical to the velocity, mobility, speed and freedom proposed by new technologies and the various accelerated modes by which we are encouraged to engage with the world. Stillness and slowness have been deemed outmoded or anachronistic forms of mobility, as fastness and efficiency have become the privileged terms. Alternatively, stillness has been reclaimed within a resistant – or at least reactive – “counter-culture” for challenging the enforced and increased pace that we are required to perform. Rather than focusing on a model of stillness based on the attempt to ‘opt out’ of the accelerated time-zones, mobilities and narratives of contemporary capitalism – the move towards a more spiritual or meditative existence by removal or denial of contemporary societal pressures – this paper will explore the potential within forms of stillness specifically produced in and by contemporary capitalism, by reflecting on how they might be (re)inhabited as sites of critical action. With reference to the writing of Gilles Deleuze – especially in relation to Spinoza’s Ethics – I want to explore 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; additionally producing the germinal conditions for a nascent community of experience no longer bound by existing protocol, a model of “communitas” emerging from the shared act of being still.

Background to the issue 'Still'
A topology of stillness haunts the space of flows. Against a backdrop of increasing research in mobilities and the mobilisation of forces of all kinds, in this issue of M/C Journal we seek submissions that attend to and reflect upon stillness. 'Still' might be many things: stillness as descriptor of a particular form of action, behaviour or disposition; stillness in an object sense; or still as in an action - to become still. This multiplicity, in turn, prompts many questions. How much effort is required to remain still or keep other bodies, things or ideas still? What might it be to think through 'still' not as a coherent and singular being-in-the-world, but something that is more fluid, diverse, fragmented and splintered? As such, what are some of the various configurations, vocabularies and politics of stillness?

Perhaps this could involve stillness as a strategy, such as to ignore or dissipate the actions of others. In the writings of idlers, or in the actions of those who refuse or cannot move into lives of permanent transit, we can see the actions of still. Here, stillness might emerge as a particular capacity in order to achieve something - where stillness becomes a productive tool rather than apprehended as a weak form of action. Alternatively, there is the still implied by delegation that comes about through trust in objects or various dispositions of delegation. Can we think about still as form of Spinozian pact, or a collective suspension? Stillness might be restorative whereby rest or being still assists with the activities of the day. Is mesmeric, dreamy stillness different from radical stillness? What about stillness that is, paradoxically, active - where it is willed, coerced or designed? What about a more passive stillness that is not willed intentionally by the body? What do these different forms of 'still' do to the body? What do they demand from the body? What are some of the bodily shapes and comportments that are associated with different forms of being or doing 'still'? And since they are not mutually discrete, how are different stills related to each other?

Still in the social sciences has often been a limited antithetical relation with life, animation and ineluctability of perpetual motion: it is the arrest of photography, or the limit of a frame. Perhaps in Walter Benjamin's phrase the 'archaic stillness' of text we see the power of stillness moving through time, but on the whole, still has enduring pejorative associations with passivity, the feminine and notions of negation. In this issue we seek to expand, recuperate and explore further stillness beyond these narrow affiliations. What does an appreciation of still do to our understanding of action and practice? As Paul Harrison claims, perhaps stillness is a necessary and 'intrinsic rather than contingent aspect of activity'. For instance, contemporary networked infrastructures produce subjectivities and ontologies in which the relation of stillness to movement is not binary or negative but fully integrated into the processes, aesthetics and politics of mobility. Stillness in all its forms is more critical in contemporary life, by virtue of and not despite, increased mobility. And yet stillness remains more or less unexplored. In this issue of M/C Journal we ask what, then, is significant about still?