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.

Hyperdrawing: Beyond the Lines of Contemporary Art

I have been invited to write an extended essay for the forthcoming publication, ‘Hyperdrawing: Beyond the Lines of Contemporary Art’ that is contracted with I. B. Tauris for publication in 2011. The publication is the second in a series of books that began with Drawing Now: Between the Lines of Contemporary Art (2007), and is edited by Phil Sawdon and Russell Marshall (TRACEY – Loughborough University). Whilst, Drawing Now focused on what drawing can be (what it might encompass in more abstract or conceptual ways, by demonstrating the contemporary use of the relatively traditional materials associated with drawing), Hyperdrawing intends to extend into the use of other materials including time, space and sound to challenge the assumptions of what drawing is or might be. The prefix ‘hyper’ qualifies something as being 'over', 'above', 'beyond' and usually implying 'excess' or 'exaggeration' or 'more than normal'. This publication will consider aspects of drawing that exceed predictable expectations of what drawing might be - conceptually, visually and as importantly technologically.                                               
Image: Tim Knowles, Wind Walk

Below is an outline of my proposed essay

The Restless Line

This essay approaches the concept of ‘hyperdrawing’ as a particular species of hyperactivity or restlessness, a ceaselessly unfolding or agitated practice that appears reluctant to be wholly stilled or settled, that instead remains perpetually unfinished, unresolved, ‘eternally incomplete’ (Dexter, 2005). Restlessness describes an acutely sensed comprehension of the infinite and immeasurable permutations or possibilities within a given situation, signaling a refusal or indeed failure to commit to any singular or distinct path of action or system of thought. Seemingly non-committal, restlessness is nonetheless a commitment to the promise of potentiality, a desire for things to remain undecided or open-ended, to not be too quickly closed down. By persistently attempting to resist or remain beyond the grasp of various systems of capture or measure, restlessness emerges as a critical method intent on preventing complex (human) experiences from becoming reduced to any single or stable position, from being fixed or simplified. In this essay, I want to explore how the act of drawing corresponds to or encapsulates a particular restless state or sensibility, that can in turn be seen as indicative of an emergent form of critical subjectivity or subject-hood, the point where a body becomes activated or animated by nascent thought. In these terms, drawing can be understood to operate in an analogous way to thoughtnot to pure intelligibility or rational reasoning, but rather to the more uncertain and inchoate space-time of thinking itself; to deliberation, to a state of critical human self-consciousness. The essay will approach the concept of hyperdrawing by elaborating on how restlessness can be considered as a critical and potentially dissident practice that finds a specific form (or rather ‘form-giving’ force) within the act of drawing. In some senses, the essay proposes to embrace restlessness as part of its own methodology – where the work of various artists provide points of provocation or interlocution prompting and indeed enabling a meandering conceptualization of ‘the restlessness of the line drawing’ to emerge.

In the first instance, I propose to explore the connection between restlessness and forms of physical wandering, and the relation to drawing therein. Within certain art practices, the act of drawing performs the role of both follower and followed, having the capacity to simultaneously lead and trace the errant trajectory of the artist’s body. Here, drawing might correspond to an event having already taken place in the past, to one that is happening (live) in the present or in anticipation of some future moment yet to come. The drawn line has the capacity to function as both itinerary and residue, as instruction and evidential record. The line might be used as a proposition that promises towards some future event or performance, as the primary event of the drawn line is repeated, followed or used as a score for a second inscription, where the entire body of the artist replaces the moving pencil’s point, its graphic mark becoming a life lived out in three-dimensional space. Alternatively, the moving body of the artist can be seen in more analogous terms, where their restless movements become drawings performed in time and space beyond the realm of the blank page, scoring the surface of more expansive terrains, carving invisible lines across the ground of a specific landscape or location. Or else, drawing becomes used to capture the ephemeral act of wandering itself – in fleeting scenes unfolding and then disappearing before they have begun to fully form, of faltering footfall rendered palpable as a quivering scribble or GPS line. In these terms, the restless line is conceived perhaps as an endlessly unraveling trajectory, active and always in motion, ad infinitum – akin to the trace left in the wake of a rolling stone.

However, restlessness might also be conceptualized as a state of oscillation or vacillation, no longer describing the unfettered meanderings of a nomadic line moving ever forward, but rather its ricochet between various points or positions, an endless performance back and forth, to and fro. The drawn line emerges somewhere between hand and eye, observation and imagination, imitation and invention, between internal and external forces or pressures, somewhere between self and the world. Drawing involves a mode of attendance or attention to these different and often competing forces; moreover, an intuition for knowing when to yield and for recognizing when to assert control. Our own experience of being in the world can equally be thought of in terms of these interrelations and co-dependencies. Drawing then, articulates the subject’s capacity for affecting and of being affected by other things, in turn evidencing the very contingent nature of subjectivity itself. The experience of the subject and also of drawing emerges as a consequence of a social encounter or interaction with. The oscillation or vacillation between different positions (of responding to and indeed producing different pushes and pulls) creates the dynamic of movement that operates as a form of desirable friction, wearing or worrying a gap or interval between the terms of one thing and another. By endlessly moving between, drawing attempts to leave or indeed make space, creating germinal conditions within which something else something new or unexpected might emerge, exceeding the terms of what is already known. Here then, hyperdrawing describes a practice of endless oscillation, a restless line intent on producing the possibility of the unexpected, unanticipated or hitherto unknown; that which is somehow hyper  ‘more than normal’, ‘in excess of’, ‘over’ and ‘above’ what could have been conceived or planned for in advance. Hyperdrawing is thus a practice performed along the limits of the comprehensible or sensible; it is that which (by its nature) attempts to resist or exceed existing definitions or expectations.


Restlessness as method

I am in the process of developing a series of new pieces of writing which further explore the idea of restlessness as a critical practice or even as a form of method, within which the quotes below operate as two points of reference, of departure and also of return.
“Contradictory words seem a little crazy to the logic of reason, and inaudible for him who listens with readymade grids, a code prepared in advance. In her statements she retouches herself constantly. She just barely separates from herself some chatter, an exclamation, a half secret – a sentence left in suspense – When she returns to it – it is only to set out again from another point of pleasure or pain. One must listen to her 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. For when she says something it is already no longer identical to what she means. Moreover, her statements are never identical to anything. Their distinguishing feature is one of contiguity. They touch (upon). And when they wander too far from this nearness, she stops and begins again from zero” - Luce Irigaray, ‘This Sex Which is Not One’, in New French Feminisms, eds. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron, (University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), p.103. Originally published as Ce sexe qui n’en est pas un (Minuit, 1977)
“There are intangible things but the moment we name them, their meaning disappears or melts like jellyfish in the sun" - partially remembered quote from Tarkovsky's  film Stalker

Laying the Bounds

I have been commissioned to produce a piece of writing in response to 'Laying the Bounds' a new work by Helen de Main as part of the northcabin project. The writing was commissioned by the Interface – new critical writing bursary scheme.  In this text, I have attempted to explore how ‘preoccupation’ might function as a mode of site-specificity. An excerpt from the text follows, whilst the full version will be available soon on the Interface website.                                                                                                           
Text Excerpt                                                                                                                                           

“[…] Preoccupation is a dysfunctional state of absorption or immersion, of being wholly wrapped up in something or someone to the exclusion of all else. Curiously, preoccupation does not designate a time prior to or in advance of the act of occupation as such nor the state of being unoccupied, but rather points to a specific and even illicit ‘type’ of occupation that insinuates itself before more legitimate or productive forms have taken hold. Preoccupation is the act of occupying oneself or one’s time – more often non-productively – in a way that is heightened or transformed to the level of a haunting or obsession. It is an improper, all consuming form of occupation that distracts from or prevents other seemingly more useful or permissible kinds of activity from taking place. Herein perhaps, lies its radical or dissident potential.

Whilst some site-specific projects emerge from a particular artist or curator’s preoccupation with a specific site or space, de Main’s approach to north cabin inverted this relation by attempting to preoccupy the site instead. For de Main then, preoccupation emerges as a specific critical and political form of site-specificity. Whilst preoccupation describes a state of mental absorption, it can also mean the physical act of occupying or taking possession of something before someone else. The cuckoo harnesses the potential of this double meaning, attempting to preoccupy both their host’s attention and the physical space within their nest. Like the cuckoo, de Main’s inhabitation of north cabin excluded the possibility of other forms of occupation. Akin to the dissenting squatter, the artist’s attempt to preoccupy the site is a resistant tactic for preventing it from other uses. To preoccupy a site is to distract it from its designated or intended purpose or function; it is to divert its attention or set it to a different tack. For de Main, to inhabit north cabin with a structure that precluded other usage was a way of preventing the site from the insensitive regeneration that so many of its neighbouring buildings had been subjected to. The cabin is suspended between times. It is no longer required to perform the utilitarian function for which it was originally designed, but has not yet been designated a new role or purpose. Here, redundancy produces a creative hiatus or pause, a space in which to conceive things otherwise before a new use or function has been fully determined […]”


Further information (press release)

Laying the Bounds

Helen de Main 
(30th August – 20th September 2009)

Helen de Main’s new work continues the artist’s interest in exploring interior and exterior spaces and attempting to blur traditional borders. The work, which will consist of a metal structure, made of panels bolted together and then treated with a number of finishes, will reference the urban landscape that surrounds the cabin. Textures and layers of colour will be built up and then sanded back creating a multitude of visual associations. The structure will conceal the 360-degree windows of the cabin, which are a prominent feature of the space. Building on this characteristic, the work will incorporate vents, inspired by grates and speakers similar to those observed in public spaces, which will then be light from within. These vents will offer a potential glimpse or entrance into the cabin for the viewer, drawing their eye inward, yet any visibility into the full interior of the space will be obscured.

Helen de Main’s new work will build on both the site of the cabin as a prominent position within the city and will comment on the current regeneration climate. By encasing the cabin from within, the artist will demonstrate the different ways in which existing buildings are re-developed and come to contain distinct other forms. The work will create a second space inside the cabin with a contrasting set of references, creating a tension between the two structural forms and will challenge perceived hierarchies between architectural structures.

northcabin is a temporary commissioning programme taking place in a disused operating cabin on Redcliffe Bridge, Bristol. northcabin commissions emerging artists to produce unique and ambitious artworks for the public realm.





Above: text work exploring 'journeys' as part of Writing Live.

I have been invited to be involved in the project, Writing Live.

Writing Live is a trans-Atlantic contemporary critical writing programme developed by Open Dialogues, Performa09 and the Space Between Words. The programme launches in New York during Performa 09 and moves to the UK in 2010.

Writing Live is an equal community of peers who understand the importance of intergenerational dialogue, artist communities, collaborative process and unknown product

Writing Live questions:

* What is the future of experimental critical writing and how is it being informed by its past?

* How might the practices of different generations – from avant-garde pioneers to recent graduates – be brought into contact?

* How might live/visual/textual practitioners, artist scholars experimenting with writing’s forms, and artists working with text come together?

Below is a response to my proposition/instruction from New York based writer/artist Rebecca Armstrong.

From A – B.  Or here – there. (response to Emma Cocker)


First difficulty:  I am: 1. either lost or 2. off the map.  These being equivalent. 


And then: With my eyes closed I am hazard, I am rude, I am white girl in the way.  Better to move through, here, if there is here, better to move on.  This city street floods, founders.  I fly through it.  I don’t topple.  The man who is always there is always there.  When he is not there, his clothes sit empty, holding his place. 


The same street a different morning.  Moving.  The same face, the same hat, the same corner, fly by.  Is it still a stranger if you see it every day?  In a crowd on a different corner would you be able to return that face to this place?  Yes or no?  This means: home or away.


The difficulty is, as usual, death.


I have lived in places where it was possible: to close your eyes, to go by feel.  This is not that place.  (Now we have established A, B.)  First, another country, without street names.  Then, this country’s past.  Then, the days of blindfolds and long afternoons, alleyways.  Were you leading or being led?  The dream of a bicycle.  The dream of a skinned knee.


The possibility of a return journey.


Arts in Society conference, Sydney

OpenCity's proposal for a workshop has been accepted as part of the Arts in Society conference which will take place in Sydney Australia in July, 2010.

OpenCity: Performing Community

Led by artist-project OpenCity, this workshop presentation investigates the critical/creative potential of collective action within public performance, through dialogic exchange between practice-based enquiry and theoretical/philosophical ideas around collectivity/subjectivity/participation. Within this workshop, delegates are invited to collaborate with OpenCity in a live investigation of the critical/creative potential of collective action within public performance. OpenCity (Andrew Brown/Emma Cocker/Katie Doubleday) is a practice-led project that explores how public space and its societies are conceptualized/organized through interrogating how daily actions/behaviours are conditioned/controlled. OpenCity will reflexively present/contextualize their recent research activity, before working collaboratively with delegates to investigate how collective performance might intervene in the public sphere through the production/creation of ‘counter-publics’; new social formations for rehearsing or testing alternativeethical/political/criticalforms of citizenship/subjectivity. According to Michel Foucault, subjectivity/subjectivization involves a process or practice, a critical operation that must be activated on a daily or life-long basis. Architectural theorists Arakawa+Gins similarly suggest that personhood/subjectivity is not a guaranteed property of human existence rather it requires nurturing: ‘to person’ is a verb; it has to be performed. Whilst such philosophical opinion perceives subjectivity as a contingent state of being which is actively and critically enacted by the individual, this ‘project’ or endeavour has become evermore difficult to realize, as a consequence of the increasingly legislated, controlled or homogenized templatesof society/citizenshipwithin which contemporary existence is expected to operate. OpenCity’s research examines the capacity of performance as a ‘tactic’ for refusing, resisting or circumnavigating the negative processes of societal normalization/homogeneity, through the development of active strategies for increasing/augmenting an individual’s affective capacity, their potential for becoming an ‘organism that persons’ (Arakawa+Gins). OpenCity will put theory/research into practice through a participatory workshop that interactively questions how collective action might augment an individual’s capacity to act or be affective. Through a synchronized/choreographed performance involving ipod technologies, the workshop will interrogate/explore how an individual’s decision-making process within participatory/collective performance might also increase critical decision-making at a societal level, in relation to wider social rules, instructions or expectations.


Conference background

The annual International Conference on the Arts in Society (the Arts Conference), The International Journal of the Arts in Society (the Arts Journal), and the Arts in Society Book Imprint and News Blog create fora for discussion and publication of innovative theories, practices and critical commentaries in the arts. The Arts Conference, Journal, Book Imprint and News Blog acknowledge the need for critical discussion on issues in the arts, and specifically as they are situated in everyday life, culture, economics and politics. Linked to critical cultural discourse, creative acts of engagement are called for that respond to the needs of our times. What is called for is no less than ‘free speech zones’, which have become ever more pressing in present-day contexts of globalisation, and its social, economic and political artefacts of cultural homogenisation and commodification. More information here