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.


An excerpt from my essay 'Over and Over, Again and Again' has been selected for inclusion in Failure, ed. Lisa Le Feuvre, (Documents of Contemporary Art Series, MIT Press/Whitechapel Gallery). This text belongs to a cluster of research entitled The Potentiality of Failure (within my broader research enquiry, Not Yet There. It focuses on developing a vocabulary for advocating a critical value for failure, by positing it as a form of resistance to or refusal of the dominant progressive, teleological or goal-oriented tendencies of contemporary experience. Central to this enquiry is an elaboration of a specifically Sisyphean model of failure, where the familiar (but habitually under-interrogated) figure of Sisyphus is considered as a cipher for investigating irresolution and incompletion as purposeful, generative strategies within artistic activity, where practice is valued as a contingent space of rehearsal, trial and endeavour. This enquiry focuses on an analysis of contemporary and historical practices where the ‘fail and repeat’ gesture is used as a critical device to thwart or challenge the authority within models of normative (habitually outcome or result-oriented) ‘success’. An text extract (of over 4000 words) is going to be included in Failure (ed.) Lisa Le Feuvre (Documents of Contemporary Art series, Whitechapel /MIT, 2010), a survey publication including writing by Giorgio Agamben, Samuel Beckett, Gilles Deleuze, Jörg Heiser and Stuart Morgan. 

Below is a draft version of the chapter.

PSi 16 Performing Publics

My paper Performing Stillness has been accepted as part of the Performing Publics conference taking place from 9–13 June 2010, Toronto, Canada

PSi 16, Performing Publics, will take place in Toronto as part of a collaboration between York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts and the Ontario College of Art & Design. The conference will investigate the power of performance to intervene in, reshape, and reinvigorate the public sphere at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We invite proposals that take up notions of “public” in a variety of ways, pointing to the critically generative and fraught aspects of the term as it has been adopted within performance studies. The conference will theorize the relationship between performance, “official” public culture (public culture framed and sanctioned by state and/or corporate institutions), and the production of what Michael Warner calls “counter-publics” (social formations developed in opposition to the discourses and interests of the official public sphere). As such, it will explore the coming together of individuals as a social totality – as a community, nation, organization, etc. – and the enactment of public as a form of social activism, as a means of rehearsing, querying, and producing alternative forms of local and global citizenship. In both contexts, performance has the potential to frame affective and critically nuanced responses to public events, issues and crises and thus to model politically and ethically engaged forms of public life. The conference also seeks to problematize the idea of “publics” as it has been applied to performance by exploring the limitations of this term and the kinds of social exclusions that it often has been used to rationalize.

Guiding questions will include: How are we hailed by various publics, and how does this shape our behaviors and social interactions? How are publics spatially and temporally constituted? In what ways do publics participate in forms of activism, civic engagement, and “poetic world-making” (Warner)? What affects and effects are produced by such utopian interventions? 

Performing Stillness
Reflecting on recent work by artist-led project, OpenCity, this paper interrogates how participatory performance-based interventions in the public realm contribute to the formulation of active – potentially resistant – forms of subjectivity and community, focusing specifically on the power of collective stillness or inaction for resisting the ideological expectations and pressures of ‘official’ public culture. Stillness and slowness are often presented as outmoded or anachronistic forms of mobility, antithetical to the velocity, speed and efficiency proposed by new technologies and the accelerated operations and interactions that temporally and spatially determine how public space and the lived environment are encountered. However, rather than understanding the performance of stillness as a counter-cultural strategy for ‘opting out’ of the accelerated narrative of contemporary society, this paper explores the potential within those forms of stillness specifically produced within and by this very context, examining how they might be (re)inhabited collectively as sites of critical action. With reference to the writing of Gilles Deleuze – especially in relation to Spinoza’s Ethics – the paper explores 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. Whilst a critique or disruption of an existing social/behavioural paradigm, the performance of collective stillness also has the capacity to produce unexpected configurations of ‘community’ no longer bound by existing rules or protocol; a nascent ‘counter public’, ‘temporary invented community’ (Kwon, 2004) or even liminal form of ‘communitas’ (Turner,1982) momentarily united within the shared act of being still.

Ethical Possession

My essay ‘Ethical Possession: Borrowing from the Archives’ has just been published in the online journal 'Scope' in their 10th Anniversary Special Issue and e-Book, which is focused on the theme of 'Cultural Borrowings: Appropriation, Reworking, Transformation' and edited by Iain Robert Smith.

Image: still from (On the Heights All Is Peace). 1998.

  Directed by Angela Ricci Lucchi, Yervant Gianikian

The issue (15, November 2009) can be found

My essay explores the possibility of a redemptive or empathetic form of appropriation (as a progressive politics of sharing or ethical possession) by focusing specifically on the borrowing of found archival footage within the work of filmmakers Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi.

Performing Collectivity

I am writing a new essay/article for Dance Theatre Journal that aims to explore some of the shared concerns and connections within three recent exhibitions, Victor Alimpiev’s To Trample Down An Arable Land, at IKON; Johanna Billing’s I'm Lost Without Your Rhythm at Arnolfini gallery, and FrenchMottershead’s Shops project at Site Gallery. In each instance, the work is underpinned by a performance often drawing explicitly on forms of collective choreography or movement or action. In different ways, each of these exhibitions presents an exploration of the relationship between the individual within the collective or community, ideas around social ritual, tensions around participation and the performance or choreography of collectivity.

In the article I am proposing to explore:

* The performance of collectivity (specifically examining the threshold/’fray’ between individual/collective behaviour)

* The space of decision-making in performance (within an art context and also as part of the performance of everyday life)

* The emergence of heterogeneity within collective action (e.g.comparing shoaling with schooling; performative ‘symphony’ with ‘synchronicity’ affinity with conformity). 

Images below: Victor Alimpiev and Johanna Billing

Social Assemblage

I have been commissioned to write an essay as part of FrenchMottershead's forthcoming publication in conjunction with their SHOPS project. The publication is edited by Gerrie Van Noord and will be published in 2010. In the meantime below is an extract from my essay, Social Assemblage

Below is a version of the text which will be published in the forthcoming SHOPS book, a culmination of the SHOPS project by FrenchMottershead, (published by Site Gallery, 2010)