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Writing (MA)

Fiona Glen

I am a writer and artist interested in lifeforms and lifeworlds. My final MA Writing project at the Royal College of Art, Cephalopodomania, is a fifteen-part tentacular text that follows the octopus into far-flung corners of contemporary culture and thought. In October 2019, I was commissioned by the ICA and BBC New Creatives to write and direct Ground Up, an audio piece narrated by five objects scattered through the streets of London during climate protests. I performed as part of Le Grand K at London’s Science Museum and has written performance texts for artists including Arvid&Marie.  

My criticism, essays, and fiction have featured in Aesthetica, NOIT Journal, Simulacrum, Art & the Public Sphere, and Letters to the Earth from Harper Collins. During the 2020 COVID-19 quarantine, I was commissioned to write curatorial texts and an artistic contribution to Small Talk, My Animal, an online international exhibition on home and healing. I am currently nurturing the still-evolving Cephalopodomania, as well as a radio play about plastic-eating bacteria in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and a project on aeroplanes crashed throughout the Highlands of Scotland.

Contact

Website

Small Talk, My Animal – Exhibition

Instagram

Degree Details

School of Arts & Humanities

Writing (MA)

I see my practice as storytelling: an attempt to understand how we relate to our environments and everything with which we share them. Exploring different forms of being(s), I hope to inspire compassion and consideration – care for an unstill world that simmers with life.  

By unpicking narratives that go unnoticed – or giving narratives to unnoticed entities – I aim to explore cultural imaginaries and ethics, and how they impact our interactions with places, objects, and living beings. My research combines the investigative and emotional, I find my way by being attentive to landscapes, materials and creatures. Following their sprawling trails and weaving connections through the textural, linguistic and associative, I actively implicate my experience in work which takes shape between texts, audio and images.  

For two years, I have been chasing after cultural images of octopuses, and I brought my unruly discoveries together to create Cephalopodomania, my Final Major Project on the MA Writing programme. Feeling my way through characterisations of the octopus, I encountered political manipulation and radical activism, sexism and feminism, exploitation and empowerment. 

I am fascinated with science cultures, and the cultural codes and convictions that enter into these allegedly ‘rational’ or detached disciplines. In Cephalopodomania, I investigated the circumstances which led to scientific speculations that dolphins were literally aliens, while in Taken Lightly I traced the impassioned path of revolutionary metrologists who walked for seven years in pursuit of a perfectly egalitarian measure. 

I use writing to celebrate the irruptively bizarre beauty of the biological – how flies are born three times, and how sphagnum moss can help to heal war wounds. Concerned with the machinic and material as they wriggle into the living, I have written from the perspectives of oil being compressed and extracted, of a dam-monitoring algorithm authoring its own creation myth, and of chalk as an ephemeral incarnation of ancient microorganisms. In a short fiction piece, Pipe Down, my narrator considers the pained anatomy of their ailing house. My collaborative poetry project on fungi with Nina Hanz, Contagion Closer to Animal, troubles boundaries between living and non-living matter, consumer and consumed.    

on the inktrail

'encounter' — reading [creatures, meetings, wonder, imagination, anatomy]
'indeterminate limits' — reading [science, robotics, tactility, origins, modelling, sand]

'symbolic polymath' — research diagram, 2019

'movement made multiple' — reading [activism, form, cooperation, structure, defiance, humour]

‘scapegoats unlimited’ — extract [politics, representation, caricature, tropes, stereotypes, distortion]

'ill-fitting parts' — extract [awkwardness, outsiders, cartoons, loners, comedy]

Launch Project

'atmospheric thresholds' — click to read and download the extract – research images compiled by Fiona Glen [others, aliens, fantasy, horror, sci-fi, extraterrestrials, contagion]

soft tentacles — flatbed scan, 2020

'carry, release' — reading [intimacy, bodies, organs, pain, sexuality, love, tenderness, birth]

'unseemly figures' — click to read the extract at Still Point Journal [femininity, queerness, representation, witches, Disney, baddies]

meeting Extinction Rebellion's octopus — photography: Fiona Glen, 2019

Through the salted waters they come, those loose-legged shapes with their unmistakable silhouettes forever changing. Through cyberspace they clamber, these spiders of the sea, these dream-like spooks who shift through every colour – underwater chameleons, with skin smoother than scales. Through literatures and caricatures, brand books and grassroots movements, they float and flicker in letters, pixels, ink, crystals. What is the trace – the lineage – of creatures like these? Are their meanings as unfixed as their form, their symbolisms as mysterious as their reaching minds? Where do these octopuses lead?

Cephalopodomania explores the contemporary cultural and scientific fascination with the octopus, with particular attention to the deeper significances of its familiar characterisations in popular culture. This short book follows the octopus, imitating its mobility and metamorphic nature, between ‘real-world’ encounters and myriad representations and interpretations of the animal as a model, myth, and symbol. Acknowledging that the octopus has diverse meanings across world cultures, Cephalopodomania addresses modern and contemporary Western conceptions of this animal. While some segments are fictional, the project is situated within a nonlinear account of a research journey.

Drawing inspiration from the octopus as a trickster, Cephalopodomania is playful, colourful, and curious. Fifteen semi-independent textual segments employ a range of registers. By allowing these to form in a non-uniform way, tied by open thematic paths, the project allows the reader to make their own tentacular links between diverse phenomena. Together, the fifteen patch-like segments form an assemblage. Mirroring the colour-changing nature of an octopus as it hunts, hides and communicates, each segment opens with a different colour-state, expressing mood and intention.

They pulse like the dozens of differently-coloured cells in an octopus’s epidermis: cerulean, coral, ochre. Each opening is a new whisper: here be krakens. Here be dreadful monsters and utopian spirit-guides. Here be witches and women, aliens and alter egos, mystical icons and mirror images. Here be hope and fear, appropriation and obsession, the familiar and the other.

Here we are, with our fellow beasts.

Medium:

Writing

Size:

20,000 words
animalsecologyfeminismobsessionoctopuspopular culturerepresentationResearchsexualitytentacularwriting

Excerpt 1

Photography & artwork: Jessica Wetherly

Excerpt 2

Photography & artwork: Jessica Wetherly

Excerpt 3

Photography & artwork: Jessica Wetherly

Excerpt 4

CRUSH / COMPRESS / COMBUST

For Jessica Wetherly’s graduating MA Sculpture show – // Laboratory { – at the Royal College of Art, June 2019, I was commissioned to write two short texts from the perspective of synthetic materials involved in her installation, and the creatures they became. <> explores narratives of consumption and capitalist extractivism, alongside an emotional imaginary of the sensation of small creatures becoming skeletons, then sediment, then fossil, then fuel. This metamorphic narrative was presented as a handout in the gallery space.

Medium:

Text

In Collaboration with:

Artist

Performance at the Science Museum — image from This Is Tomorrow's livestream, 29/05/2019

'Weighting' extract — composed by Fiona Glen from images of the Le Grand K e-book

Le Grand K — identity designed by Farvash

Once upon a time, a silvery cylinder kept under lock, key and three bell jars defined our kilogram. Le Grand K was a prototype – the original from which all other kilograms took their measure. Unstable and imperfect, Le K was losing weight every time she was improperly handled. It was decided that she could not be trusted. The weight of the world could not rest on a single icon. So, on World Metrology Day, 2019, Le Grand K was retired and replaced with an algorithm – a complex yet immaterial formula based on Planck’s constant with its dependable cosmic quality.

In early 2019, a group of RCA students came together to create a publication and an events series paying homage to Le Grand K. I contributed ‘Weighting’, a prose poem, to the publication, and performed an original lecture, ‘Taken Lightly’, as part of Le Grand K at London’s Science Museum. While ‘Weighting’ explored desire, weightlessness, and the texture of gazes, ‘Taken Lightly’ was an erratic journey through the unexpectedly emotional world of metrology, where scientists have been driven to mortal peril and near-suicide by their passionate search for the ‘perfect’ measure.

Edited by Dasha Lokyo, Andrea Khora and Karoly Tendl, Le Grand K is available to buy as a paperback and e-book. Please contact Fiona Glen or the editors for more information. Currently, all proceeds from the book’s sale will go towards The Outside Project.

Le Grand K included work by: Julia Wolf / Alice Bucknell / Arieh Frosh / Marijn Ottenhof / John Henry Newton / The Idle Institute / Johanna Flato / Demelza Toy Toy & Annie Pender / Name Surname / Károly Tendl / Fiona Glen / Flo Ray / Samuel Capps / Dario Srbic / Farvash / Cameron Randall / Luca George & Déas McMorrow / Col Self / Andrea Khôra / Xenia Busalova / Mathilde Heu / Tatjana Vinona Joneska / Allan Gardner / Judith Hagan / Léonie Sinden / Nikolai / Dasha Loyko

In Collaboration with:

Editor & Organiser
Editor & Organiser
Editor & Organiser
Identity designer & contributor

Photography: Fiona Glen, 2018

Contagion: Reading with Nina Hanz — ‘Some ruffled, some oozing / one swirled in peaked icing.’ It’s a wide world for mushrooms, the dirt-lovers earth-crusted and mole-studded. Fascinated by these pusher-uppers, wind-makers and tree-climbers, we (Fiona Glen & Nina Hanz) started collecting and constructing original poems for the 2020 revival of the Royal College of Art’s historic publication ARC. The conditions in which we recorded this reading feel, to us, spore-like – dispersed, yet also synchronised and siblingly. Former neighbours now distanced by borders and hundreds of miles, we recorded a dual reading remotely and created a living, breathing counterpart to full collection available in ARC.

Pages 1-2

Extract: Seven-Flowers, Nina Hanz

Pages 3-4

Extract – together (Fiona Glen)

Pages 5-6

Click to go to ARC Magazine — 'Contagion' was written for ARC's The Dirty Issue, launched July 2020

Spores of tiny reproductive cells kick back against eco-collapse. Blind, soft-hard little peaks pop up as mushrooms, mycophilia. Some fan with a bittersweet aroma, some breathe a breath of rot. All appetise their own hunters with the drug relapses and poisons known formerly as witchcraft. Part of a resilient kingdom closer to animals than plants, these micro/myco-beings are experts in adaptation, in surviving and thriving in the margins, in clearing up other people’s shit.

Humans have designated them decomposers, but they are building worlds from the dead and discarded, stewing new life in their own saliva. For possible futures, both psychedelic and dismal, we see fungi sprouting into the potential of inheriting the Earth.

This sporing text – a collaborative poetry project written between myself and Nina Hanz – is a contribution to the latest revival of the Royal College of Art’s historic publication ARC. The newly-launched publication can be accessed online at https://arcmagazine.org/.

Medium:

Poetry

In Collaboration with:

Co-writer

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Contact was published in The Pluralist: Other in April 2020. The selected photographs were taken between 2018 and 2019.

Medium:

Photography

Attention cover crop — identity designed by Alec McWilliam

Pipe Down — book designed by Alec McWilliam, composite image by Fiona Glen

Attention anthology — photography: Ludovico Colacino

Can feel for the structures that surround our lives – and if the buildings we inhabit also inhabit us, where are the limits between our systems?

This piece of short fiction – produced through an RCA MA Writing workshop on attention, scale, duration and endurance given by Brian Dillon – is an account of isolation and tenderness. It was published in Attention, an anthology of critical-creative writing, produced independently by final-year MA Writing students with the financial support of the Royal College of Art. I was also one of three copy-editors for the anthology. Attention was launched on the 14th of January 2020 with an evening of readings at Morocco Bound, Bermondsey. Copies of the book are available from bigcartel and independent booksellers.

Attention includes contributions from: Sally O'Reilly (forward), George Leith, George Lynch, Judith Hagan, Rose Higham-Stainton, Lucy Holt, Laura Robertson, Yuan Xiao, Esme Boggis, Fiona Glen, James Ireland, Yin Ying Kong, Anabelle de Gersigny, Harriet Welch, Hattie Gibson & Nina Hanz. The book was edited by Yin Ying Kong, Rose Higham-Stainton, and Bryony Bodimeade.

Medium:

Writing

Size:

1,000 words
21 July 2020
17:00 (GMT + 0)
Twitch

MA Writing: Obsessed!

Student panel discussion
Read More
30 July 2020
17:00 (GMT + 0)

MA Writing: Creature, Stranger, Monster, Other

Discussion about feminism, animism, horror and folklore with Dame Marina Warner

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