never saw a worse paper in my life. One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.
(Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper)
Stare long enough at a set pattern and your eyes will start to tease out shapes, create figures in the cracks. Cavorting, leering, jeering, seething: What do they say? What do they want? Do you slither under the covers to hide, or stand up and deface the pattern entirely — rip it from the walls and scream into the plaster?
ARC: THE DIRTY ISSUE began as a commitment to grappling with the things you may normally retch at — or prefer to ignore entirely. Dirty is that squirm in the back of your brain that keeps you up at night, twisting your tongue. Dirty is the prudent analysand on the couch drinking tea whilst masturbating over unresolved issues. We asked our contributors to ditch their dirty laundry, do a downward dog and teach us a dirty lesson. “If you’re uncomfortable, if you’re exhausted, if you’re feeling just a little bit wretched,” we said, “ARC 2020 knows how you feel.” From environmental collapse to the rise of Right-wing politics, the tyranny of the nine to five, The Algorithm and mindfulness toys for kids — it’s enough to make anyone feel dirty. And how to define our very own dirty agenda. We knew we wanted to disturb as much as we wanted to delight; we knew we wanted to frolic in bad taste or no taste at all — to hell with taste! We knew we wanted you to help define it, and we knew we wanted to plant new roots for ARC itself as a publication.
As the University and College Union strike action of February and March 2020 intensified here at the College, and as we stood in unity, in sympathy with our tutors and other educators from across the country, we revelled in the submissions we received in response to our open call to students and staff. Disembodied members thrown to the gutter took on new life in Esther Merinero’s short story, “Tongue”; Dolly Kershaw’s syrupy sculpture — a painted, plaster sanitary product that collects hair and grime, oozes its innards — seemed to stick two fingers up to the notion of sanitisation; photography by Jose Garcia challenged the invisibility of labour; whilst an essay by Emma O-Reagan-Reidy asked us to probe the materiality of the buildings we pass en route to the college — what do we accept, what are we responsible for? Video pieces from a prospective exhibition entitled Careless Limbs reminded us to exhale, break the body down. And if you do, what does it say? We started wondering if THE DIRTY ISSUE was fundamentally a refusal.
Each generation thinks they’re different, thinks they’ve got a fresh voice and star-spangled shoes to match, and sure, the RCA has produced magazines for almost all of its long history (ARK, our predecessor, ran from 1950 to 1978; its successor, ARC, ran intermittently from 2004 to 2015), and sure, we knew we were nothing new. And yet — this felt different, charged, timely. And then, time itself was suspended: a pandemic hit, and we were told to go home and stay there.
ARC is now even more sprawling than we initially conceived of. Spawned out of a necessary hiatus in publishing, a new online version has meant more (digital) room and the chance to unfoldover 9 weeks, with four pieces each week. It has also meant the birth of an accompanying student-run podcast (Dirty Talks), and the opportunity to host a more expansive launch line-up — including readings and performances from Juliet Jacques, Tai Shani, Charlie Fox, June Caldwell and students from the College — that we hope will allow us to reach a wider audience than we might have initially. We began a call-out for a range of shorter online content — oddities, Q&As, diary entries, photo-essays — from students and staff: a desire to reinforce the community that, though fractured, has stayed together (perhaps grown) during these strange and testing times. Times in which the word itself (dirty) has grown maleficent wings.
In the words of some of our predecessors, whilst the magazine is “primarily an exposition of writings, illustrations and criticisms produced by students of the Royal College of Art, we always include some specialised articles by well-known outside contributors” (Editorial Introduction from ARK 12, 1954-5). ARC 2020 is no exception. Shuffle through the cast list and you’ll find poetry from Wayne Koestenbaum, essays from Juliet Jacques and Travis Alabanza, and fiction from June Caldwell and Charlie Fox, to name a few, that will make you squirm and sparkle.
Dirty dearests, we give you mystics and fortune tellers, termite towers and louses and sporing mushrooms. We give you the body diffuse: limbs untethered, sprawling slowly, parts abstracted, abandoned, isolated (go on, grab a mirror and take a long, slow look at your own). We give you fake smiles and crumbling sanitary products and — lo! — the pathos of the pangolin. We give you a searing rebuttal to the trope of the “dirty woman” from Hatty Nestor, in her essay “Kiki Smith’s Dirt.” We give you teenage explorations into gossip and truth-bending, and the freedom that comes from wearing masks, in Mark Morrisroe’s profane punk-fanzine, DIRT. We give you freedom. Freedom from diversity as a business choice — their vision, their revenue, their identity. Freedom to change oneself; freedom not to worry “how to shape every brainwave into a brand that stands out from the incessant noise,” as Juliet Jacques grapples with in her personal recollection of Marina Abramović’s durational performance, 512 Hours.
In the words of Wayne Koestenbaum, we give you “the agora floor”: a polyphonic promiscuity, “the unseen afterlife” and “the fringes of consciousness.” We hope it is delightful, desirable and urgent, just as we hope for a more collaborative world, and to slather the soles of your feet in mud. Get sloppy. Dig in.
– The editors