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.


I have been commissioned to produce an essay on the work of FrenchMottershead for a forthcoming publication linked to their recent residency and exhibition at Site Gallery, Shops. Artists Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead have been travelling to Brazil, China, Turkey, Romania, Slovenia and back to Sheffield to engage with a wide range of communities and audiences as part of their Shops project. The Shops project invites owners and their customers to become involved in an artwork through the process of participation and exchange.

Image: FrenchMottershead, Dusanka Sulejmalli, Laura, Ljubljana, 2009

The book will feature essays that have been commissioned in association with the Shops project in each of the countries, and will include local writers, journalists and critics; an essay by Peter Jackson from University of Sheffield which will give the perspective from his research as a social/human geographer, and a piece by Tim Etchells linking to the project they will be working on in Sheffield. The essay will enable me to potentially interrogate some of the ideas that have been emerging in relation to an AHRC application (currently in development) which explores ideas of 'invented' or temporary community (Kwon,2004&Turner); the blur or slippage that occurs between individual and the collective or community experience, as well as ideas around participation and collectivity within ritualized (everyday) performance.

Liminal Landscapes


My paper Exit Strategies – Beating the (invisible) Boundary has been accepted as part of the 
Liminal Landscapes symposium which is going to take place at Liverpool John Moores University
 1st July 2010. The paper develops some of the ideas I have been exploring in previous symposia (including PSi Interregnum, 2008 and Living Landscapes, 2009) around certain artists' inhabitation of the 'liminal landscapes' emerging at the interstice of physical and virtual worlds.  
In particular I am proposing to further explore the work of Kayle Brandon and Heath Bunting, for whom the navigation of space–physical and/or virtual–becomes inherently bound up with the navigation of subjectivity and questions of social identity. Within their practice the liminal landscape becomes the location or terrain within which (and according to whose terms) the formulation of the self and one’s place in the world becomes mapped out and defined; or else might be navigated differently to dominant ideological expectations. 


Background to conference

Ideas and concepts of liminality have long shaped debates around the uses and practices of space in tourism. Victor Turner’s writings on ritual and communitas, Graburn’s theory of tourism as a sacred journey, or Shield’s discussion of ‘places on the margin’ have secured a well-established foothold in the theoretical landscapes of travel and mobility. The unique qualities of liminal landscapes, as developed by these and other writers on the subject, are generally held to be those which play host to ideas of the ludic, consumption, carnivalesque, inversion or suspension of normative social and moral structures of everyday life, deterritorialisation and ‘becoming’, and so on. While these arguments and tropes remain pertinent, and their metaphorical appeal evermore attractive, the extent to which these spaces provoke counter ideas of social control, terror, surveillance, production and territorialisation, invites an urgent call to re-evaluate the meanings attached to ideas of the ‘liminal’ in tourism studies. The shifting social geographies associated with these landscapes has meant that the example of the beach may equally be looked upon as a space of transnational labour, migrancy, racial tension, death, fear, uncertainty and disorientation. In addition, the appropriation of liminal landscapes by, for example, local authorities, commercial bodies and marketeers constructs an increasingly mediated or textualised space of performance that re-fashions the embodied (and embedded) spaces as lived by those who make up their diverse social fabric.


The Semiotics of Shipwreck

My paper abstract 'Not Yet There: Shipwreck as Suspended Potentiality' has been accepted as part of the forthcoming conference, 'The Semiotics of Shipwreck:
 A Symposium on the Representation and Resonance of Maritime Disaster' which will take place at the National Maritime Museum, London (19th-20th November, 2010

Image: Bas Jan Ader: In Search of the Miraculous

Abstract excerpts:

"This paper will examine the resonance of the shipwreck motif within selected visual art practices since the 1960s by reflecting speculatively upon how it has been reclaimed from the vaults of Romanticism and reinvested with critical significance within a conceptual lexicon ... Here, the shipwreck motif serves to articulate/represent the suspended potentiality of the ‘irresolvable or unresolved quest’; teleological imperative forever poised at the point of non-attainment or anticipation, a disrupted narrative in which closure or completion is indefinitely deferred. The shipwreck belongs to the borderlands; like the ruin it has a liminal status where it remains ‘no longer and not yet’. It is also a curiously ambivalent anti-monument – a contradictory or inconsistent signifier. Shipwrecks possess the complex aporetic properties of an adventurer’s deflated dreams, functioning both as evidence of endeavour/resignation; hope/failure; possibility/impossibility; the trace or remainder of something now absent, the paradoxical visualization – like the phantom – of a disappearance or of loss. The paper thus shifts from ‘locating’ interest in the shipwreck motif within the context of Romantic Conceptualism, towards attempting to posit that it is its dislocated or unstable conceptual properties that form part of its ongoing fascination for artists" 

Context: Background to the conference

Ever since human beings first began seafaring, they have been fascinated, and haunted, by shipwrecks. For maritime societies especially, these tragedies at sea have been a constant source of anxiety, since they are disasters that potentially devastate not only individuals but also the community or nation as a whole. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that shipwreck is also one of the oldest motifs in art and literature. It can be traced as far back as the second millennium BCE, when a fragmentary Egyptian papyrus tells of a sailor shipwrecked on an island that is home to a giant snake. Thereafter it becomes a key topos in the romance genre, from Heliodorus to Shakespeare and beyond, and recurs frequently in poetry, from Homer's Odyssey and Horace's Odes through to Byron's Don Juan and Hopkins's 'The Wreck of the Deutschland'. It has a Biblical presence, for example in the account of St Paul's shipwreck. In painting, meanwhile, shipwreck and its aftermath have been taken up by artists ranging from Vernet and Gericault to Sydney Nolan. And the shipwreck scenario may fairly (if a little paradoxically) be said to have launched the modern novel, in English at least: shipwrecks are of course central to both Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Swift's Gulliver's Travels. This fascination with the shipwreck scenario continues right down to the present day, notwithstanding the fact that shipwrecks are today much more infrequent than they were in the past ... Over the years, accounts and metaphors of shipwreck have taken diverse forms and served various purposes; the iconicity that attaches to the shipwreck motif has also varied significantly across time and between different cultures. Thus in some forms it is fused with Protestant traditions of spiritual autobiography, and comes to denote a cataclysmic, transformative event in the life of an individual. In others, meanwhile, the topos is informed by Horace's famous metaphor of the ship of state, and becomes associated with an act of collective memorialization and mourning. The aim of this symposium is to explore the shifting and multiple semiotics of shipwreck; to trace the evolution of the shipwreck motif over time and across different cultures; and to trace the circulation of accounts and representations of specific shipwrecks (eg the Titanic, the Grosvenor and so forth) through culture.