No Telos is a collaborative artistic research project for exploring the critical role of uncertainty, disorientation, not knowing and open-ended activity within creative practice and during uncertain times. This artists’ book comprises a series of ‘scores’ drawing on exercises and practices first developed and tested in Venice (2017), where the city is approached as a working ground or live laboratory for artistic research and aesthetic investigation, for poetic inscription and playful experimentation. Contributing artists: Andrew Brown | Emma Cocker | Steve Dutton | Katja Hock | Tracy Mackenna| Danica Maier | Andy Pepper | Elle Reynolds | Derek Sprawson.






No Telos is a collaborative artistic research project for exploring the critical role of uncertainty, disorientation, not knowing and open-ended activity within creative practice and during uncertain times. The project considers different tactics for resisting the increasingly outcome-motivated or achievement-oriented tendencies of contemporary culture, by shifting emphasis from a mode of telos- or goal-driven productivity towards experimental forms of process-led exploration, subversive playfulness and wilful irresolution. No Telos was conceived as a counter-measure to the ubiquitous demands to do more and more faster and faster that arguably underpin the current culture of immediacy and urgency, with its privileging of multitasking, perpetual readiness and ‘just-in-time’ production. No Telos was adopted as a (mis)guiding principle through which to collectively test and develop shared ways of doing and becomingfor producing generative states of uncertainty; for exploring the disruptive potential within incompletion and the unresolved;for cultivating receptivity to the unfamiliar and unexpected, to the possibility of the unknown.


No Telos was initiated in 2016 by a group of artists including Andrew Brown, Emma Cocker, Katja Hock, Danica Maier, Andy Pepper and Derek Sprawson.[1] In 2017, No Telos staged a research intervention in Venice against the wider contextual frame of the 57th Venice Biennale, for questioning contemporary modes of artistic production through a week-long intensive residency or Convivium. Convivium pertaining to a feast, a model for being-with: from com-   ‘with, together’, and vivere ‘to live’. Conceived as a hybrid of an artists’ residency and a peripatetic symposium, the Convivium in Venice involved spending time together to feast on and explore shared research and ideas, with activities taking place throughout the city, within the Biennale itself, as well as over convivial communal meals. During this phase of the project, the original No Telos group were joined by artists Steve Dutton, Tracy Mackenna and Susan Trangmar (as critical friends or interlocutors) and Susi Clark and Elle Reynolds (as documenters-witnesses of the unfolding process).


The Convivium itself was structured through the interweaving of different modes of action and non-action, through the different perspectives of individually and collectively led exploration. Each day the Convivium began with the shared experience of various Practices: collective exercises for heightening attention and awareness, for cultivating a receptive approach through the first person-perspective of direct experience, somatic movement and embodied action.[2] Experiential sensitisation through breathing-walking-listening-watching: attunement to the interconnection of self and surroundings. The Practices were underpinned by the questions: What preparatory actions and tactics support the radical purposelessness of doing nothing, or the not knowing and uncertainty of getting lost? How does one prepare for the experiential encounter that is goal-less, that has no telos? These daily Practices prepared the ground, setting up the conditions for experimental modes of becoming.


The Practices were followed by a series of shared explorations collectively entitled Becoming.[3] Each Becoming was led by two artists and involved the whole group in an intensive experiential encounter with a specific non-teleological state or atmosphere, that was deliberately amplified through collective action in the public domain: a blindfolded walk through Venice for getting lost; the Venetian Vaparetto appropriated as a site-specific context for considering ‘dithering’ as a critical practice; the National Pavilions of the Giardini occupied against the pressures of commodified spectatorship through the durational practice of slow looking. From here, the project unfolded through a series of activities and exercises entitled Doing, where the principles and values of No Telos were explored in further depth through the specific prism of different individual’s artistic research interests. A meeting of surfaces through a phenomenological encounter with the Jewish Ghetto. Attending to the liminality of lines  whether through observation of physical traces in space; through the textual exploration of a poetics of doubt; or through the shifting of texture between stitch and drawn line. A dérive along Via Garibaldi where the experience of the present is unsettled through the intermingling of sounds past, or where new forms of sense-making emerge through chance encounters produced unexpectedly through reading (on reading) practised together as a collective collage of fragments.   


Through the daily Practices, the collective experiments in Becoming and the shared encounter of Doing, the research aim was to put pressure on the notion of No Telos in relation to both process and place. How can the foregrounding of process be conceived as a subversive act, approached through the complementary practices of doing (the rebellion of making, experimentation and play) and not-doing (with an emphasis on a certain withdrawal of action through slowness and stillness, contemplation and observation, alongside meditative, durational or even ritualistic practices of attention)? How can the site-specificity of Venice function as an external stimulus or context for reflecting on the inscription, description and narrativising of space and place (under construction), the contingent and provisional stories (histories, conversations, fictions) and [human] traces that collectively constitute and re-constitute the archaeology of a given locality? During each evening of the Conviviumand over the convivial sharing of foodthese various questions (and others) were revisited through a process of reflective interlocution and collective discussion. 


Certainly, the rhetoric of art practice and art pedagogy foregrounds the critical role of uncertainty, disorientation, not knowing, getting lost.[4] Yet, can such principles be taught or even practised? The artists involved in No Telos are also all artist-educators, committed to a radical art pedagogy underscored by principles of curiosity and open-ended play; the importance of risk, of trial and error; a capacity for not always knowing or being certain.[5] How can these foundational values withstand the contemporary pressures of the academy, a business of education that seems increasingly driven by targets and goals, focused on the ends rather than the means?  Moreover, how can art students embrace the value of uncertainty and the not-known, when so much of their prior education has conditioned them towards the passing of exams, for meeting (rather than disrupting or exceeding) the expectations of assessment criteria? What are the ethical implications of inviting the embrace of failure and not knowing when the individual might lack the grounding or confidence to inhabit these experiences in affirmative terms? How are subjects being shaped within the contemporary art school? According to which societal paradigm are they conditioned to perform? How might the art school, the artists’ studio or even the space-time of the artistic residency provide alternative models of practice, perhaps even offer the conditions of resistance?[6]



More broadly, how do the values that underpin No Telos retain their criticality and potential now that contemporary life seems so uncertain, so ungrounded, with global socio-political destabilisation, economic collapse and societal unbelonging reflected at a national and local level? Whilst emblematic of the highly commodified nature of the contemporary art world, Venice can also be approached as a microcosm of or as a mirror that reflects back the conditions of wider global instability  the challenges of contemporary exile and migration, the precarity of contemporary work and life, the uncertainties of environmental and ecological crisis. What role has the practising of creative uncertainty within these increasingly uncertain conditions of contemporary life? Could arts-based practices activate new conversations on how to live creatively in uncertain times, offering a tactical toolkit for testing different ways of being and behaving, where the unknown is actively embraced? Are such tactics the privilege of artists alonehow can they be shared with and opened up further through engagement with wider communities of practice? How can a controlled encounter with the uncertain or unfamiliar operate as a form of dosage against which to rehearse or test ways for cultivating a creative response? How does one differentiate between affirming and debilitating forms of uncertainty and open-endedness, between the not knowing that vectors towards generative playfulness and that which creates only paralysis or stasis? Towards an ethics of uncertaintyhow can the encounter with the unfamiliar and strange(r) operate as a micro-political, even ethico-aesthetic practice? How do we cultivate receptivity to experiences and encounters beyond our zone of habitual comfort?


Alternatively, how does one resist the nihilistic implications of the imperative towards No Telos the debilitating sense of having no point or purpose to one’s own actions, indeed to one’s own life? Here perhaps, might not the invitation towards No Telos be reframed through a call towards the autotelicAutotelic activities also refuse the reward-driven, outcome-motivated tendencies of contemporary culture, however, they are not pitched in antagonistic relation to the idea of a goal or end: they are not against telos as such. Autotelic (autos‘self’ and telos  ‘goal’) refers to an activity or a creative work that has an end or purpose in and of itself. Autotelic activity exhibits a sense of intrinsic meaning or curiosity that is internal to it, emerging through it where the sense of its worth or value is not established or measured according to external criteria.[7] Rather than choosing between outcome-driven or open-ended activity, between process and product, the shift from the non-teleological towards autotelic activity seeks to playfully navigate the intervals and spaces in-between, refusing the binary of either/or.


This artists’ book comprises a series of ‘scores’, drawing on exercises and practices first developed and tested in Venice (2017), where the city is approached as a working ground or live laboratory for artistic research and aesthetic investigation, for poetic inscription and playful experimentation. The intent is not to just document or archive what was or has been, but rather that these various scores might operate as a speculative tool-kit that can be shared with others for future use or activation, in other situations and at other times.


The publication was launched in Venice (June 2019) through a series of participatory actions, readings and animated extracts for activating the scores, within the frame of the Research Pavilion ( against the wider context of the 58th Venice Biennale. A digital version of the publication, contextualised through further documentation and reflection will be cumulatively developed for the online research catalogue, an enhanced dissemination platform hosted by the Society of Artistic Research. See





[1]           No Telos builds on the ethos of both Summer Lodge (a residency model founded and coordinated by Danica Maier, taking place annually within the fine art studios of Nottingham Trent University, NTU) and the NTU fine art research cluster Still Unresolved (previously coordinated by Emma Cocker and Derek Sprawson). Its research concerns have also been explored through two recent Summer Lodge symposia: Doing Deceleration (4 July 2017)  curated by Emma Cocker and Henk Slager in conjunction with the exhibition Exhausted Academies (curated also be Slager) at Nottingham Contemporary (30 June 201705 July 2017); and Autotelic / Towards Play (led by No Telos artists), July 2018. The publication of No Telos! marks the ten-year anniversary of Summer Lodge.

[2]           Some of these Practices draw on examples developed by Emma Cocker in collaboration with Nikolaus Gansterer and Mariella Greil as part of the project Choreo-graphic Figures: Deviations from the Line, (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2017).

[3]           This choice of title inescapably invokes Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s conceptualisation of the process of becoming. See Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, (London: Continuum, [1980], 2011)Drawing on a Deleuzian philosophy, Finn Janning writes: “The investment in the present that one makes by exposing oneself opens up for (actualizes) a different future. This happens when one incorporates certain fruitful or productive qualities that allow one to become without an end goal. Just become”, in The Happiness of BurnoutThe Case of Jeppe Heim (London: Koenig Books, 2015), p.74.Elsewhere, Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch argue that: “Becoming initiates the formation of new patterns that carry over into future situations” in The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, (Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: The MIT Press, 1991), p.114.

[4]           For example, see On Not Knowing: How Artists Think, (eds.) Elizabeth Fisher and Rebecca Fortnum, (Black Dog Publishing, 2013).

[5]           On ‘critical curiosity’ see Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy and Civic Courage, (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001, [1996])

[6]           See also Elle Reynolds, Alternative art school, alternative to what? What the alternative brings: experience of participation and spaces within the alternative art school, (PhD research project, Nottingham Trent University).

[7]           You could think of autotelic activity in relation to the ‘flow states’ of total absorption or immersion where action and awareness merge. Often conceived as synonymous with ‘being in the zone’, flow describes a hyper-focused state of ‘optimal experience’  or mental state. It has been conceptualised by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi as a state of ‘total involvement’ in the process of an activity, where the individual stops “being aware of themselves as separate from the actions they are performing”, in Flow: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness, (London: Rider, 2002), p.53. Here, states Csíkszentmihályi, “Life is justified in the present, instead of being held hostage to a hypothetical future gain”, 2002, p.69.