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RCA Writing gets dirty

Students from the MA Writing programme have relaunched ARC*, a student led publication with a 50 year history at the College. ARC: The Dirty Issue will be available online from 3 July, with four new texts published each Friday over the next nine weeks. A night of readings on 9 July and a night of performances on 23 July will celebrate this return and expand on the magazine’s content, which dissects the theme ‘dirty’.

Dr Emily Le Barge
Dr Emily LaBarge

The Dirt zine collage, Mark Morrisroe
The Dirt zine collage, Mark Morrisroe, Mark Morrisroe
From mystics and fortune tellers, to termite towers and sporing mushrooms, abandoned body parts, fake smiles and polyphonic promiscuity, ARC: The Dirty Issue features explorations from students and staff across the RCA, and special guests including Wayne Koestenbaum, Juliet Jacques, Travis Alabanza, June Caldwell, Hatty Nestor and Charlie Fox. A note from the editors states that the project started ‘as a commitment to grappling with the things you may normally retch at – or prefer to ignore entirely’, the result, they hope, is ‘delightful, desirable and urgent’. 

This academic year, which has seen so many seismic shifts and challenges both local and global, has been an incredibly exciting moment to work on reviving ARC magazine as a vehicle for the voices, work, and experiences of students and staff at the RCA; as well as commissioning exciting pieces from varied practitioners beyond our community’ explained Writing Tutor, Dr Emily LaBarge

‘The Writing students have always produced compelling, and often boundary-pushing collaborative publications, and this year is no exception: in spite of radically changed circumstances, the students have worked together with agility and aplomb. ARC: The Dirty Issue is fantastically rich, heterogeneous, funny, subversive, surprising... and more! We look forward to the ways in which it will continue the historical legacy of the College magazine.’

The theme dirty, chosen prior to Covid-19, has gained a new significance post-pandemic. Project manager Harald Smart, explained. ‘Dirty was thrown around in a very early meeting just before Christmas last year. It instantly captured the imaginations of everyone around the table. It's a timely theme, it's also punchy and extremely versatile. It's a word with a lot of negative connotations that sadly reflect the state of the world at present; but we're also keen to highlight it's potential as a productive force, as a grubby lens through which to see, and as a source of inspiration in structuring radical practices.’

Greer Dale-Foulkes, one of the project’s editors added, ‘we asked ourselves, “why now? What is it about this moment that is ripe and ready to bring back this publication?” Dirty was the word that immediately came to mind when trying to wade through a mounting sense of filth and frustration from the past decade – a dirty decade perhaps – to work out how we got to where we are now. It seemed like a fertile, expansive and provocative  – and perhaps a tad salacious – springboard from which to leap.’

ARC Dirty Issue, [unseen ultramarine], Screenshot
ARC Dirty Issue, [unseen ultramarine], Screenshot

Covid-19 has made producing a physical publication difficult, so like much else, ARC has moved online. This has provided more room to experiment, including an accompanying student-run podcast Dirty Talks; a more expansive launch line-up featuring readings and performances from Juliet Jacques, Tai Shani, Charlie Fox, June Caldwell; and additional online content, such as Q&As, diary entries and photo-essays. This approach the editors note, was motivated by ‘a desire to reinforce the community that, though fractured, has stayed together (perhaps grown) during these strange and testing times.’

Harald Smart, MA Writing
Harald Smart, MA Writing

John Vaughn, who is on the editorial team, discussed these changes. ‘Excitingly we adapted quite well and expanded our conception of what and how our project could be. We might not have devoted so much time and thought to the online presence, for instance. Subject and content-wise, however, everything felt oddly prescient, especially considering a lot of it was written before Covid-19 barged in.’

Collaborative projects are an important aspect of the Writing programme. In the past they have included a book revealing hidden stories of Albertopolis, another on Television Centre, and a reader of ARK, the predecessor of ARC. Working on publication projects also provides an opportunity for Writing students to collaborate with designers from MA Visual Communication. This year Maya Gulieve, Will Jacobson and Max Kohler developed the design of the website.

ARC Dirty Issue, Pangolin, Screenshot
ARC Dirty Issue, Pangolin, Screenshot
Jeremy Millar, Acting Head of Programme for Writing, is keen to emphasise the importance of these collaborative publishing projects. ‘When we established the programme back in 2010 we were clear that there were a number of ways in which we could improve a student’s writing: through writing itself, of course, lots of it, in many different forms, and reading similarly, but also editing. To pay close attention to another’s words, to consider what works, and what might not, is to develop a critical acuity which can then be brought to bear upon one’s own words, and that is incredibly valuable.’ 

Image to illustrate the work by Charlie Fox, unknown photographer
Image to illustrate the work by Charlie Fox, unknown photographer
The various tasks of conceiving a publication, working with a designer, and overseeing production, promotion, and distribution are also useful professional skills to develop. ‘It is a fortunate writer who can support themselves by their words alone, and so it is important for our students to develop a variety of related skills. Many of our graduates now work as editors, or have established their own publications, and often their first taste of this was during the collaborative project on the programme.’ 

For Harald, the collaborative project was an opportunity to expand on past experience, ‘in an environment where it's ok to ask questions and make mistakes.’ Whereas for Greer, despite being used to collaboration working in theatre, ARC was a first: ‘Being on the editorial team and reading the brilliant submissions we had come through has been a privilege – it’s definitely given me a taste for magazine life.’ John also appreciated the group dynamic of the collaborative project ‘We are a mixed bunch and very passionate and sometimes get carried away but we temper each other well. I think it is important to be tempered, to find people against whom you can sharpen and grow bold.’
Check out ARC: The Dirty Issue, online from 3 July.

Learn more about MA Writing and how to apply.

*ARC ran intermittently from 2004 to 2015 and was the successor of ARK, the College magazine published from 1950 to 1978.