A Note from the Editors

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