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.

Writing/Text: Experiments along the brink of I

This text (below) has been written in response to encountering and participating in a series of action-research projects developed by Sara Wookey and Bianca Scliar Mancini including Movement in the City (Toronto, 2010) and Unfolding Zagreb (2009) (also led by Christoph Brunner, editor of the publication Practices of Experimentation: Research and Teaching in the Arts Today). Taking the form of a performative prose-poem, the attempt is one of writing out from within a live and lived experience of a project, in order to enact or embody rather than describe or theorise the ideas emerging therein. It extends lines of enquiry from my other prose texts Room for Manoeuvre; or, Ways of Operating Along the Margins (published in The Manual for Marginal Places, closeandremote, 2010); The Yes of the No! (produced as part of The Summer of Dissent, Bristol, 2009); and Pay Attention to the Footnotes (in collaboration with Open City 2007- 2010). The term 'tacturiency' is also the title (coined by artist Clare Thornton) of a collaboration that I am currently developing with her. 

Book launch II: Apeirophobia

Apeirophobia – Karin Kihlberg & Reuben Henry
Book Launch at Danielle Arnaud Gallery, Wednesday 21 March, at 19.00

Apeirophobia is a new publication by artists Karin Kihlberg & Reuben Henry exploring the processes of translating an artwork into book format, an extension of a theme in Kihlberg and Henry’s work of things changing form through processes such as memory and recall, documentation and revisiting histories and possible futures.

At the launch Kihlberg and Henry will be in discussion with artist and writer Emma Cocker and designer James Langdon to discuss some of the issues of making an artists book and publishing. 

Apeirophobia by artists Karin Kihlberg & Reuben Henry, designed and co-edited by James Langdon, includes texts by: Emma Cocker / Brian Dillon / Mladen Dolar / Eli Noé. Published by VIVID 2011.

A review of Apeirophobia in Art Monthly can be read online here and also below.


Review by Colin Perry, Art Monthly, September 2012

'Apeirophobia' is the fear of infinity, and may be manifest as a gnawing fixation on the endlessness of space and the innumerable possibilities of time. Of all the phobias we might list, it is one of the most abstract. Most anxiety disorders - say, gephyrophobia (fear of bridges), mottephobia (fear of butterflies) or coulrophobia (fear of clowns) - are centred on a concrete object or experience. But it is the more general phobia that is frequently of interest to artists and writers, for the more general an anxiety, the broader the author's statement might be. Edgar Allan Poe and Willtie Collins, for example, might be said to be exploring the idea of modem psychological depth through the motif of taphephobia (fear of being buried alive); art- world audiences may be more familiar with David Batchelor's Chromophobia, 2000, which details modernity's quest for colour-purity; and I'm a fan of Roberto Bolano's posthumous opus 2666, which features an exhaustive index of pathologies including the mother of all of them, phobophobia (fear of fear itself). Here, phobias are a measuring stick for society's vertiginous path into new technological, architectural and visual landscapes.
Karin Kihlberg & Reuben Henry's Apeirophobia is an anti-catalogue that remixes and expands upon works made by the duo over the past few years. Its modest format invites you to read it as, say, a novel or volume of poetry, but it quickly shrugs off any attempt at linearity, and one finds oneself shuttling back and forth between image and text. This elliptical structure is most evident in Emma Cocker's contribution, which is cut up into paragraphs that seem to loop back into one another, starting from the sentence: ‘This was not the beginning for that happened elsewhere in other words and times that have since been assimilated into other parts of the text', and ending with ‘This is not the end but rather another place from which to start' (my definition of the 'starting' and 'ending' are, of course, what she seeks to deny).
Textual looping and self-referentiality are certainly not new in literature but they remain fertile fields in contemporary art writing, which seems intent on escaping the tyranny of authorial power, reasoning and intellectual guidance. At worst this form of writing is pure megalomania - a means of locking others into the prison house of one's own language. The metaphor is least thrilling when it follows this path, for it is ungenerous to the audience and we have been here before. Eli Noe's text in Apeirophobia is a pastiche of Jorge Luis Borges's short story "The Library of Babel' - it adds little to the original, but has the advantage of brevity. Noe's text is included here in reference to Inbindable Volume, 2010, a video by Kihlberg & Henry set in Birmingham's brutalist Central Library, and a snippet of the film's spoken narrative, which mixes temporalities with joyous abandon, is reprinted here. The text is surprisingly taut in print format, with such proleptic gems as: The people who inhabited this place during the future remained insensitive to the imminent change.'
What has all of this to do with apeirophobia, the anxiety disorder? Fear of infinity is presented here as a paradoxical condition in which one might dread both the chaotic infinity of choice and the endless desert of order. Cocker puts it succinctly when she says: ‘The tighter our grasp upon the world becomes, the greater our need for or fascination with the idea of escape. Escape is a fugitive act where the resulting freedom is only ever temporary, fleeting. No sooner is one boundary breeched another becomes established.' Cocker's text is, in part, a struggle to locate a world beyond the page - a refreshing position. Indeed, the book as a whole is engaged in an attempt to unshackle itself from the drab bookishness of artists' monographs - particularly exegesis and biography. All of the images here, for example, are from the artists' catalogue raisonné, but are largely without explanatory notes or credit lines. Instead, one flicks between images (of architectural interiors, an inverted ziggurat and drawings of corpses) as if to construct a new and entirely personal story in one's own head. Two other essays expand on how we might read the artists' work by inference and association rather than exposition. Mladen Dolar's essay is an enjoyable scamper through the history of prerecorded and recorded sound, and Brian Dillon's contribution is a readable if rather more conventional essay contextualising Kihlberg & Henry's numerous explorations of cinema's ghostly ruins. The artists' most obvious cinematic references are evident in the series of drawings Acting Dead, 2010, depicting Hollywood actors playing dead, and This Story is About a little Boy, 2010, in which a narrator attempts to recount Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol, 1948 (the film is based on Graham Greene's short story about muddled perceptions and mixed-up narratives).
This publication is related to Apeirophobic Framework, an installation presented at ArtSway in 2011, which consisted of a set-up for an exhibition in which Kihlberg & Henry filmed a parodic version of the artist interview beloved of publicly funded arts institutions (whose aim is partially pedagogical and also intended to preserve the event of the exhibition for the future). By predicting this fate of the installation and showing it as the artwork itself, Kihlberg & Henry try to capture what they describe as 'a sense of planning and of the imagining of the future and gathering it into the present'. Looking into the future for the two organisations that have supported this show and publication - ArtSway and VIVID (the latter commissioned this book) - their existence is bleak. Both are victims of Arts Council England's culling of funds from smaller and regional art institutions and have announced their imminent closure. But the book's most extraordinary extra- textual manifestation was at the book launch itself, for which copies of the volume were literally launched in a field in Cambridgeshire - slung into the cold morning air using a clay pigeon launcher (or trap) and unceremoniously blasted mid-flight by a gun-toting huntsman. The event was filmed in all its punning glory: as daft and memorable as a John Smith film (the more conventional launch was in London, at Danielle Arnaud gallery). The book is an object, after all - finite rather than infinite and as susceptible to gunshot wounds as actors in the movies.

Karin Kihlberg & Reuben Henry, Apeirophobia, VIVID,
2012,128pp. b&w, pb, £10,978 0 955248} 4 4.
Colin Perry is a writer and critic based in London

Exhibition: An Exhibition of a Study on Knowledge

An Exhibition of a Study on Knowledge

Opening Event: 13th April 2012: Lecture Performance 'Drawing on Drawing a Hypothesis' with Emma Cocker and Nikolaus Gansterer. Artists: Rossella Biscotti, Marjolijn Dijkman, Nikolaus Gansterer, Toril Johannessen, Pilvi Takala, Haegue Yang, Gernot Wieland

The knowledge society, designed for livelong learning, serves as foundation of the present capitalist order, cognitive capitalism, which foregrounds multiplicity evoked through cognitive work in knowledge economies. Here knowledge is not longer a tool but becomes the actual ‘product’. Such to a large extent interdisciplinary functioning economies involve a broad range of specialists: economists, computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, geographers, chemists and physicists, as well as cognitivists, psychologists or sociologists. For the knowledge flows they generate, livelong learning, prescient education and communication are increasingly fundamental. Currently, we witness how education stratifies societies and plays an important role in the class struggles in schools and universities. Self-learning methods are becoming increasingly significant as precarious developments in the public education and fields knowledge-production have lead to privatization of knowledge as well as restricted access to education. The exhibition itself as a study brings together a group of international artists in the midst of current changes of the production and position of knowledge. Their artistic practices expand on other domains of critical thinking to bring out scientific, statistical, discursive, empirical, playful or artistic perspectives on knowledge. Aiming at an encapsulation of ephemerality (knowledge), the exhibition will enhance the position of an investigation at large, than a mere display of conceptual objects.

Curated by: Margit Neuhold and Fatos Ustek 
Opening: Friday, April 13, 2012. 6:00 pm
Duration: 14. 4. – 12. 5. 2012
Part of the festival: aktuelle Kunst in Graz: 4. – 6. 5. 2012

Reading Group: To Move and Be Moved

Affective Readings @ Site Gallery, Sheffield
Thursday 23 Feb 2012, 6pm onwards
Thursday 23 February, 8 March, 22 March, 5 April, 19 April. 

In partnership with If I Can't Dance I Don't Want to be Part of Your Revolution, I am hosting a series of reading group discussions at Site Gallery in Sheffield, for exploring a number of texts relating to the notion of AFFECT. The reading group is linked to the forthcoming exhibition by Jeremiah Day at Site Gallery, entitled 
Of All Possible Things
, 2 March - 7 April 2012. Jeremiah Day is one of five artists commissioned by If I Can’t Dance I Don’t Want to be Part of Your Revolution, to make a new work as part of Edition IV – Affect (2010-2012). In Jeremiah Day’s work questions of site and historical memory are explored through fractured narratives, employing photography, speech, and improvisational movement. 

Week 1: Intensities and Shimmers
The first reading group will take place on 23 Feb, with two texts by Brian MassumiThe Autonomy of Affect, available here and Concrete is as Concrete Doesn't available hereThere will also be reference to the introduction chapter ‘An Inventory of Shimmers’ from The Affect Theory Reader, (ed.) Melissa Greg and Gregory J. Seigworth, Duke University Press, 2010. 

Brief overview the first session: 
The first session of the Affect reading group operated in introductory terms, sketching out a broad conceptual context through which to consider the notion of affect. This reading group purposefully advocates different intensities and durations of engagement with the reading material – asserting the value of glimpsing or skimming (or even electing to not read) alongside more conventional close reading methods. Emphasis was placed on the critical function of performing tangents, asides and anecdotes within the event of reading – where an encounter with a given text operates as a point of departure, provoking or triggering unexpected lines of flight, associations and connections. Coming together as a diverse group of artists and researchers from different backgrounds, it felt necessary to acknowledge the importance of these different perspectives and approaches – where the reading group was framed as a site for working with and through ideas, for sharing points of resonance, for producing dialogue through partial and subjective readings rather than striving for clarity of understanding, for fixing and defining the meaning of terms encountered.

The text ‘An Inventory of Shimmers’ provided a useful ‘way in’ for many of us, presenting a vocabulary (if at times florid, abundant) for thinking about affect as a force of encounter, a gradient of intensity, the felt and yet untranslatable experience of a body’s capacity to both affect and be affected. “How to begin when, after all, there is no pure or somehow originary state for affect? Affect arises in the midst of in-between-ness: in the capacities to act and be acted upon. Affect is an impingement or extrusion of a momentary or sometimes more sustained state of relation as well as the passage (and the duration of passage) of forces or intensities. That is, affect is found in those intensities that pas body to body (human, non-human, part-body, and otherwise), in those resonances that circulate about, between, and sometimes stick to bodies and worlds, and in the very passages or variations between these intensities and resonances themselves. Affect, at its most anthropomorphic, is the name we give to those forces – visceral forces beneath, alongside or generally other than conscious knowing, vital forces insisting beyond emotion – that can serve to drive us toward movement, toward thought and extension, that can likewise suspend us … across a barely registering accretion of force relations, or that can even leave us overwhelmed be the world’s apparent intractability. Indeed, affect is persistent proof of a body’s never less than ongoing immersion in and among the world’s obstinacies and rhythms, its refusal as much as its invitations', Melissa Greg and Gregory J. Seigworth, p.1

Drawing on the work of Spinoza, affect can be considered as potential, ‘a body’s capacity to affect and be affected’. Central to our discussions, emerged the question of how a body moves from the condition of being affected towards developing their capacity to affect, from being blown about by affective forces (of which they have no control or understanding) towards harnessing such forces to cultivate an ethical and political approach to daily life. “How does a body marked by its duration by these various encounters with mixed forces, come to shift its affections (its being-affected) into action (capacity to act)?” Melissa Greg and Gregory J. Seigworth, p.2

Writing: The Affective City

Movement in the City, Toronto, 2010

I am in the process of writing a new text, provisionally entitled 'Experiments Along the Brink of I', as part of a collaboration with artists Sara Wookey and Bianci Scliar Mancini. The writing draws on a sustained period of conversation with these artists, where I have both been witness to and participant in a series of workshops for exploring 'movement in the city' or even a form of 'social or everyday choreography', including Movement in the City (Toronto, 2010) and Unfolding Zagreb (2009) (also led by Christoph Brunner, editor of the publication Practices of Experimentation: Research and Teaching in the Arts Today - see details below). I am envisaging that the text will echo the model of 'essaying' developed as part of my collaboration with Open City and within my pamphlet-manifesto The Yes of the No!. The chapter/sections deal with (as a provisional list) (1) the affective city; (2) body as force; (3) testing limits; (4) rehearsal; (5) warming/stirring; (6) fold/unfold; (7) speeds and slownesses; (8) collectivity/connectivity; (9) appropriate/appropriate; (10) befitting; (11) immersion & observation. The development of the text undoubtedly draws on my experience of collaboration with Open City (which I have previously interrogated through the prism of a specifically Spinozist/Deleuzian set of ideas in writing such as Performing Stillness). It also connects closely with ideas emerging as part of a text I am also writing on the work of Cezary Bodzianowski (called Squaring up to the Round Hole) and the concerns of the reading group around notions of affect (in collaboration with If I Can't Dance I Don't Want to be Part of Your Revolution) that I am hosting shortly at Site Gallery in Sheffield. 

Practices of Experimentation: Research and Teaching in the Arts Today, co-edited by Christoph Brunner

Practices of experimentation lie at the heart of creative research and teaching in higher education in arts. The Department of Art & Media at Zurich University of the Arts offers a unique teaching and research environment as a laboratory of converging and diverging practices of experimentation. Its Bachelor and Master's programs are supported by two research institutes within the department, the Institute for Contemporary Art Research (IFCAR) and the Institute for Critical Theory (ith).
Practices of Experimentation investigates how the different fields of fine arts, photography, media arts and theory interlace with each other, inspire and differentiate one and another. The book presents 15 positions in text, image, video and sound by theorists and artists. They enquire how practices of experimentation constitute one of the most advanced approaches to research and teaching in arts worldwide. They ask how practices of experimentation are able to unfold, take position and enquire current discourses on artistic creation, the relation between art schools and society, the specific production of knowledge in the arts and the particularities of inter- and trans-disciplinary teaching and research in the arts.
Contains essays by Ute Meta Bauer, Maria Eichhorn, Knowbotic Research, Jörg Huber, Marianne Müller, Gerald Raunig, Nils Röller and Richard Wentworth. With a foreword by Giaco Schiesser and Christoph Brunner.

Writing: Contradictory Words

I am currently writing a review of the exhibitions by Hanne Darboven and Raphael Hefti at Camden Arts Centre for Frieze magazine. I anticipate that I will also continue to explore Darboven's work in further writing, as it is providing a helpful foil against which to consider some of the preoccupations and concerns within my current research-practice, not least in relation to the strategic or tactical use of opacity or incomprehensibility as a means for refusing the pressure of representation or signification, but also as a form of writing practice based on doing rather than meaning. Below is a quote from Della Pollock's essay “Performing Writing” (recently encountered following its citation by Barnaby Drabble as part of the ARC (Artistic Research Catalogue) conference in The Hague in early March) which I am currently thinking about in relation to Darboven's practice.

“[…] at the brink of meaning … writing as doing displaces writing as meaning; writing becomes meaningful in the material, dis/continuous act of writing. Effacing itself twice over – once as meaning and reference, twice as deferral and erasure – writing becomes itself, becomes its own means and ends, recovering to itself the force of action. After-texts, after turning itself inside out, writing turns again only to discover the pleasure and power of turning, of making not sense or meaning per se, but making writing perform: Challenging the boundaries of reflexive textualities; relieving writing of its obligations under the name of ‘textuality’, shaping, shifting, testing language. Practicing language. Performing writing. Writing performatively.” Della Pollock, “Performing Writing” in The Ends of Performance (eds.) Peggy Phelan and Jill Lane, (New York: New York University Press, 1998) p.75.

I am also returning (once more) to the passage (below) from Luce Irigaray's 'This Sex Which is Not One' (a passage that figures periodically and recurrently within my research as a point of reference and provocation), since there is something in this Penelopian tendency of 'weaving' within Darboven's work, in her practice of 'ceaselessly embracing' a system or structure (writing, numbers) only to then cast it off, dispel its logic.

“Contradictory words seem a little crazy to the logic of reason, and inaudible for him who listens with ready-made grids, a code prepared in advance … 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 becoming 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’.  It is therefore useless to trap women into giving an exact definition of what they mean, to make them repeat (themselves) so the meaning will become clear … If you ask them insistently what they are thinking about, they can only reply: Nothing. Everything.”

Book launch: Apeirophobia

Apeirophobia – Karin Kihlberg & Reuben Henry
Book Launch at Motto Berlin, Friday February 17th, at 19.00

Presented by the Reading Room

Apeirophobia by artists Karin Kihlberg & Reuben Henry, designed and co-edited by James Langdon, includes texts by: Emma Cocker / Brian Dillon / Mladen Dolar / Eli Noé. Published by VIVID 2011.

Apeirophobia is a new publication by artists Karin Kihlberg & Reuben Henry exploring the processes of translating an artwork into book format, an extension of a theme in Kihlberg and Henry’s work of things changing form through processes such as memory and recall, documentation and revisiting histories and possible futures.