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.

Essaying Essays

I am currently participating in the project 'Essaying Essays'

A Temporary Collective of Readers
1st July- 1st October 2009

For three months the Essaying Essays collective will explore the possibilities of the essay form. What forms can the essay take and how can such texts be read? What is an essay and who is essaying and where? What kinds of knowledge can be produced? What is lost and gained in moving beyond conventional discursive approaches into using visual and textual material, the space of the page, variations of typography and design?

Essaying Essays was proposed by David Berridge as one of seven research projects by members of Free Press, a collaborative project between seven artists/ writers exploring economies of ideas and alternative modes of dissemination and exchange. The seven projects developed from a workshop at Plan 9, Bristol in March 2009. Details of all the projects can be found at www.tradeunionartfreepress.blogspot.com

Free Press are David Berridge, Rachel Lois Clapham, Karen Di Franco, Pippa Koszerek, Matthew MacKisack, Sophie Mellor, and Ashkan Sephavand.

My reasons for involvement are as follows:
I have increasingly come to think of the essay as a form of Sisyphean labour, where its etymological origins in the French word essayer - meaning to try, a tentative attempt – are remembered and posited a value. Whilst there is perhaps a danger - even a sense of futility - in thinking about the essay in terms of its potential (indeed inevitable) failure, there is also a certain liberation in acknowledging that the essay is not always about arriving at a definitive conclusion but rather serves, at times, as an act of rehearsal where possibilities become marked, propositions trialed. The tentative, propositional indeed potentially failing possibilities of the essay are something I would like to explore further, as these are ideas that relate closely to my ongoing research that operates under the working title ‘Not Yet There’. In spite of my interests in the provisional, unresolved and incomplete, my writing has often tended to follow the format of established even conventional forms of essay writing, which I freely admit might not always be wholly appropriate to the ideas expressed therein.  In recent work I have become more interested in the form that my writing might take, thinking about how it might function as a practice rather than simply as a structure, vessel or convention for holding together ideas. I have become interested in using strategies of listing for assembling fragmentary or partial sentences and in the conventions of footnoting as a critical and creative device for constructing non-linear (even wandering) text-works. 

Stillness in a mobile world

I have been invited to write an extended essay for the forthcoming publication, Stillness in a mobile world, eds. David Bissell and Gillian Fuller, International Library of Sociology Series, Routledge, 2011. My chapter Performing Stillness: Communities in Waiting belongs to a cluster of research entitled Performing Communities which interrogates how participatory performance-based interventions in the public realm can help cultivate models of social agency, sociability or temporary collectivity, in resistance to the increased experience of atomization/individualization within contemporary urban life. It investigates the capacity of participatory performance to intervene in and challenge how the public realm is activated and navigated by producing ‘counter-publics’, new social formations for rehearsing and testing alternative – ethical, political, critical – forms of individual and collective subjectivity. Central to this area of enquiry is my own practice-based involvement (as an art-writer) in the art-project Open City, which in this chapter is interrogated through the prism of a specifically Deleuzian-Spinozist philosophy. My chapter brings together art and philosophy to interrogate the critical potential of performed stillness, conceiving of ‘being still’ as an affirmative and constitutive space of ‘being-with-others’ (Nancy) or of ‘bodies in agreement’ (Spinoza). The chapter’s argument is developed from my earlier article 'From Passivity to Potentiality: The Communitas of Stillness', in the peer-reviewed Australian online journal M/C - A Journal of Media and Culture, Vol.12, No.1 and has been tested at international conferences (PSi #16 Performing Publics, Toronto; Mobilities + Creativity, Narrative, Representation and Performance, University of Surrey    

Background to Publication: This collection on the conceptual, political and philosophical importance of stillness is positioned within a world that has increasingly come to be understood through the theoretical and conceptual lens of animation. Criss-crossing the humanities and social sciences, metaphors of movement, from Manuel Castells’ space of flows to Zygmunt Bauman’s liquid modernity underpin much work within the ‘new mobilities paradigm’ (Sheller and Urry) that is interested in understanding the world through relations of movement and flux. Moving away from a sedentary metaphysics of being-in-the-world, burgeoning mobilities research illustrates a commitment to exploring the differentiated dynamics of a world increasingly characterised by networks of corporeal, virtual and imaginative mobilities. This collection suggests that while a focus on such a dialectic of stasis and movement is significant, it neglects other registers and modalities which still and stillness inhabits: where still emerges through other configurations of matter which are not necessarily reducible to the dialectic of mobility and immobility. What happens if we think of stillness not only as rhythm, but also as technic or trope? As attunement or perception? As such, each chapter in this collection attends to stillness through a range of different grammars and vocabularies from human geography to media studies, from cultural theory to fine arts; illuminating the multiplicity of ontological and epistemological registers through which still moves. With contributions from leading scholars in the field, the diversity of this collection illuminates the multiplicity of ontological and epistemological registers through which stillness moves: from human geography to media studies, cultural theory to fine arts. With the help of luminaries such as Deleuze, Bergson, Barthes and Beckett, this book interweaves cutting-edge theoretical insight with empirical illustrations which examine and traverse a multitude of practices, spaces and events. In an era where stasis, slowness and passivity are often held to be detrimental, this collection puts forward a new set of political and ethical concerns which help us to come to terms with, understand, and account for (im)mobile life.

Below is a PDF of the forthcoming book chapter:

‘Performing Stillness: Communities In Waiting’ in Stillness In A Mobile World, eds. David Bissell And Gillian Fuller, (International Library Of Sociology Series, Routledge, Oxford 2010), pp.87 – 106.

‘Performing Stillness: Communities In Waiting’ represents Performing Communities, a sub-section of my broader enquiry, Not Yet There (http://www.not-yet-there.blogspot.com/), which investigates the capacity of participatory performance to intervene in and challenge how the public realm is activated by producing ‘counter-publics’, new social formations for rehearsing alternative – ethical, political, critical – forms of sociability and collectivity.

Central is my practice-based involvement (as an art-writer) in the art-project Open City, whose performance-based practice is interrogated through the prism of Deleuzian-Spinozist philosophy. Key research was undertaken in Japan (dislocate festival, Yokohama) supported by an Arts Council Grant, Exploring New Strategies of Participation within Site Specific Performance, 2009. The contribution to knowledge is in exploring the affective potential of performed stillness, conceiving ‘being still’ as a constitutive space of active, embodied citizenship.

The chapter develops an earlier article ‘From Passivity to Potentiality: The Communitas of Stillness’, published in the peer-reviewed journal M/C A Journal of Media and Culture, Vol. 12, No. 1, Still, 2009. Its ideas have been tested at various international conferences (including PSi #16 Performing Publics, Toronto, 2010 and Writing, Site+Performance, ANTI festival, Kuopio, Finland, 2011). Related investigations exploring the use of invitations for producing collectivity have resulted in journal articles ‘RSVP – Choreography Collectivity through invitation and response’, published in the peer-reviewed online journal Rhizomes (‘Hives, Tribes, Assemblages: New Collectivities’, 2011); ‘Pay Attention to the Footnotes’, in the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, 2010; ‘Social Assemblage’, in FrenchMottershead - SHOPS, People and Processes (Site Gallery, 2010), and ‘Permission Granted’ - essay in the online journal, Drain, 2011. The Spinozist notion of affect was further elaborated as part of an invited essay in Reading/Feeling: The Affect Reader, (If I Can’t Dance, Amsterdam, 2013).