Kairos Time:

by Emma Cocker

The Performativity of Timing and Timeliness … or; Between Biding One’s Time and Knowing When to Act

This paper investigates contemporary performance and artistic practice through the prism of kairos, a concept that in spite of the ‘temporal turn’ within arts/humanities – and its familiarity within literary/rhetorical studies – has remained relatively under-interrogated in relation to artistic making/thinking. Kairos is an Ancient Greek term meaning a fleeting opportunity that needs to be grasped before it passes: not an abstract measure of time passing (chronos) but of time ready to be seized, an expression of timeliness, a critical juncture or ‘right time’ where something could happen. Kairos has origins in two different sources as Eric Charles White notes: archery – “an opening … through which the archer’s arrow has to pass”, and weaving – the “ ‘critical time’ when the weaver must draw the yarn through a gap that momentarily opens in the warp” (1987, p.13). The Ancient Greek art of technē (referring to a ‘productive/tactical’ knowledge, rather than ‘craft’) is underpinned by the principles of kairos (opportune timing) & mêtis (cunning intelligence). Alternatively, for philosopher Antonio Negri, kairòs refers to the ‘restless’ instant where naming and the thing named attain existence (in time), for which he draws example from the way that the poet “vacillating, fixes the verse” (2003, p.153.) Drawing Negri’s writing on the ‘revolutionary time’ of kairos (alongside Bergson’s concept of the ‘gap’ or interval) into dialogue with Ancient Greek rhetoric, this paper elaborates the significance of kairos to contemporary art practice and critical imagination, identifying various artistic practices that operate as contemporary manifestations of Ancient technē, or analogously to Negri’s ‘poet’: practices alert/attentive to the live circumstances or ‘occasionality’ of their own making, based on kairotic principles of immanence, intervention & invention-in-the-middle.

White, E.C. (1987). Kaironomia: On the Will to Invent, Cornell University Press.
Negri, N. (2003). Time for Revolution, New York and London, Continuum.


Emma Cocker is a writer-artist & Reader in Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University. Operating under the title Not Yet There, her research addresses the endeavour of creative labour, focusing on models of (art) practice and subjectivity that resist the pressure of a single, stable position by remaining willfully unresolved. Cocker’s recent writing has been published in Failure, (2010); Stillness in a Mobile World, (2011); Drawing a Hypothesis: Figures of Thought, (2011); Hyperdrawing: Beyond the Lines of Contemporary Art, (2012); On Not Knowing: How Artists Think, (2013), Reading/Feeling (2013) and Cartographies of Exile, (2015). Often working in collaboration with others artists, she has presented work at Flat Time House, London; M_HKA, Antwerp; NGBK, Berlin; Stadtpark Forum, Graz, and the AGORA Athens Biennale (2014). She is a key researcher on the PEEK funded research project Choreo-graphic Figures: Deviations from the Line (2014 – 2017) in collaboration with Nikolaus Gansterer and Mariella Greil.