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Writing (MA)

Gina Prat Lilly

Gina Prat Lilly (she/they) writes through theory, haptics, and translation. They write essays located at the intersection of poetry, queer and feminist critical theory, visual art and philosophy. Their writing has been commissioned by Sticky Fingers Publishing and Visual AIDS (New York); has been published by Synoptique: Journal of Moving Image Studies, TACO!, New Voices Peer to Peer; and is forthcoming in a special issue of Classical Antiquities on Anne Carson, published by University of California Press. She is currently foraying into noise via her practice playing the saxophone with electronic music collective GATE.

At the Royal College of Art, Gina was part of the editorial team for An Engine for Thinking, a collaboration between the Warburg Institute and MA Writing cohort, and coordinated readings and performances for the launch event.

Alongside other students, they co-founded the translation research group please enter with heart open and hands out for what we have to give, holding a series of collaborative translation workshops and culminating in a published pamphlet series.

Before studying at the Royal College of Art, Gina majored in Classical and Hellenic Studies at King's College London, and was awarded the Katie Lentakis prize by the Anglo-Hellenic League for their thesis on the myth of Antigone in post-war Spain.

Gina is passionate about access to arts and culture, and to this end facilitates creative writing workshops for older adults. They also work as an Editorial Assistant at FIELDNOTES.

4 identical photobooth photos of a white non-binary person with short curly brown hair.

Push your shoulder up against language and it will push back against you. If a body has the language of gesture, then language, too, gestures to us from a body. This body is neither wholly naive. Nor is it wholly ungodly. 

I am interested in touching language and in language that touches. Not the object, but the hand embroiled in its delivery. At times biting the hand that feeds. I write as though to rummage among a pile of ashes and find the bones of some small animal. To fondle these bones and see where they have cracked. I like to watch butter melt in a pan, as meanings once whole or proximate ooze and drift apart. I am interested in knowledge: its production, its dissolution and its texture. Like casting salt into the word and watching its flames flicker blue.

This is a project that goes careening and crashing through the undergrowth of language with nothing but the fallible tools of translation, and comes out torn, battered, and confused. Imitació del foc: An Ardent Translation makes clear its conceptual and formal ambitions from the outset. It is to be a strange mixture of translation, memoir, a poet’s biography, the 20th century history of Spain, and a meditation on languages and making meaning. The project’s fragments pull the project in all these varied directions. And this, of course, is where the trouble begins.

My thesis offers, on one level, a set of translated poems, various forms of writing about the poet, Catalan communist poet Bartomeu Rosselló-Pòrcel, accompanied by short essays offering ways into the poetry and on the act of translation. This body of work is in turn treated as a found document, introduced by a framing essay commenting on the ambiguities and failures of the main text and, more widely, of biography and of translation. In providing these varied forms sliding over one another to make up an ultimately unfinished and unfinishable project, this project is an exercise in writing with and on the bias. Unstable, fragmentary, and rarely reliable, I hope to visibilise the complexity of approximating an object of study.

White background, reddish serif text.
Excerpt from "Fragment 3: Preface"
White background, reddish serif text.
Excerpt from "Fragment 10: The Ardent Translation Manifesto"
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Excerpt from "Fragment 4: On biography" (1)
White background, reddish serif text.
Excerpt from "Fragment 4: On biography" (2)
Three snippets of paper on a messy painted background
Working notes (1)
Three snippets of paper on a messy painted background
Working notes (2)
Three snippets of paper on a messy painted background
Working notes (3)
Three snippets of paper on a messy painted background
Working notes (4)

Crumminess was commissioned by Sticky Fingers Publishing in 2021 as part of their Dead Lovers series, which focuses on a particular work of a deceased writer. This essay was written in response to Cookie Mueller's story The Simplest Thing. The publication also includes texts by Rose Higham-Stainton and Zoë Frost.

"An attempt at haptic criticism, a descent into affect, Gina Prat Lilly’s essay on Crumminess takes Molly’s sunburnt flesh and enters the logic of blistering to unfetter the body. Under a hallucinatory sun, the skin is undone, matter turns to matter, and we are poised toward that which lies on the other side of the lake: a disorderly, dissenting and dirty queer ecology."
- "Introduction," Sophie Paul and Kaiya Waerea.
Front cover. Three open spreads of book. Black background.
Three open spreads of book. Back cover. Black background.
Open spread of book. Black background. Verso, black and white image of trees and vegetation. Recto, "Crumminess by Gina Prat Li
Open spread of book. Black background.
First page of essay excerpt. Black serif writing on white background. Quotations in margins.
Second page of essay excerpt. Black serif writing on white background. Quotations in margins.

Warning: This section contains mature or explicit content.

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An essay on the work of David Cannon Dashiell, based on research undertaken at the GLBT Historical Society and Visual AIDS archives in 2022-23.

Artwork depicting naked aliens in a lesbian sexual initiation rite.
Detail from Queer Mysteries, David Cannon Dashiell (1993). Acrylic back painted on plexiglass, 8 x 192 ft.
"In 1993, at the inauguration of a retrospective that would be his last in vitae exhibition, David Cannon Dashiell (1952–1993) appeared through the door with a boa coiled around his neck. This was not a feather boa, no – it was the reptilian kind. This gleefully performative gesture, a play on the relationship between images and meaning, is only one out of many subversions of signification that characterize Dashiell’s short yet intense artistic career. He was a conceptual artist, motivated by a concern for the mythologies of verbal and visual language, and their role in creating and shaping our reality. Dashiell lived and worked among friends, lovers, and artists in San Francisco in the 1980s and 1990s. His brilliantly erudite installations played on themes of queer identity and sexuality, as well as the collective pain of a community under the siege of a devastating malady and an equally destructive government, all while in deep conversation with structuralist and post-structuralist theory.
I linger on the mental image of Dashiell and his scaly companion. The feathered boa is already a symbol of hedonism associated with seduction, with queens, with soft fetish, with sex workers. In its animal form, the boa recalls the serpent from the garden of Eden, becoming further entangled with ideas of temptation and transgression. Perhaps this poses a sexy, sexy challenge to the oppressive ideas of propriety forced onto people living with AIDS (PWAs) by the American media and gay assimilationists. On the other hand, perhaps the threat of a boa’s fatal chokehold around Dashiell’s throat, death momentarily suspended yet entirely possible, spoke to the precarity of the artist’s and other PWA’s lives. And yet thirdly and lavishly, the snake is also just a brilliant pun, flung on for the hilarity of all attendants and providing a moment of queer, tongue-in-cheek joy to a grieving community. Sono Osato, fellow artist, friend and now Dashiell’s estate manager, recalls Dashiell’s “shit-eating grin” that night. All these meanings – and no doubt more – populate the small space that was carved out by Dashiell’s pun. It is this gallows humor and critical sensibility that imbues his installations with a lacerating acuity, his pieces spiked with that same disarming ambiguity and multiplicity of signification. And I, for one, am hooked."
Artwork depicting naked necromaniacs in a gay sexual initiation rite.
Detail from Queer Mysteries, David Cannon Dashiell (1993). Acrylic back painted on plexiglass, 8 x 192 ft.
"For all the bodily functions and somatic indexes of Dashiell’s work [...] the tone of his transgressions is slant and sly. Images of orgiastic sadomasochistic glut; of rabid man-chomping; of bodies severed, reassembled and sutured at the joints; of lubrication and ejaculation – all these bodily excesses are contained by slick contours enclosing solid blocks of unshaded colour with little visual depth. Dashiell’s style eschews affect, instead carrying with it the wit of the comic-book strip and its facility for double (or triple, or quadruple) entendre. Facial expressions are cool and collected, holding the viewer at arm’s length."

The warmest of thank yous to Sono Osato, Tim O’Toole, and Rebecca Solnit for their time, resources and recollections; to Isaac Fellman, reference archivist at the GLBT Historical Society, San Francisco, for his tireless digitisation of images; and to Kailee Faber, Kyle Croft, and Cea (Constantine Jones) at Visual AIDS, for their sweet trust in the project and generosity in helping shape it, even cross-oceanically.

This archival research was commissioned by Visual AIDS, New York. Read the full piece here.

Triangulating desire, mythos and etymology, "Poikilos" is a work of fleshy ekphrasis, taking seven steps into the lithograph of a cystic liver.

"Poikilos" was part of An Engine for Thinking, a collaboration between the MA Writing cohort and The Warburg Institute.

"In An Engine for Thinking, we dig our hands into the archive to find alluring objects, precise diagrams, oddities, facts, fictions and carefully held stories. At the Warburg Institute, we spend time among open stacks and in cabinet drawers, yes, but oh! we also linger in the entrance, the elevator, the hallways. In the intimacy of these recondite corners, we chance upon novel strands of history, methodology and thought. We tug at these strands in the hopes that something might unravel and find, suddenly and devastatingly, to be unravelled ourselves. We pull apart and are pulled apart by, among other delights, Touch, Cheating, Animals, Repetition, Dazzle and Mistresses."
- "Introduction," MA Writing
A hand-coloured lithograph depicting a cystic liver, with pearlescent colouring.
Hand-coloured lithograph of a liver drawn by Antoine Chazal, in Jean Cruveilhier, ‘Maladies du foie, de la rate, et du grand epiploon’, Anatomie pathologique du corps humain, 2 vols. and atlas, Paris: J.-B. Baillière, 1829-42. Warburg Institute Phtographic Collection > Magic and Science > Science, technology and medicine > Medicine > Illnesses > Medical Complaints > Diseases [miscellaneous]


The prefix hepa-, used to describe elements in relation to the liver such as hepatitis and hepatology, is derived from the Ancient Greek term ήπαρ (hepar), otherwhere spelled ήδαρ (hedar)

The ancient conception of the liver as the seat of the soul and its passions casts loose semantic loops between hepatics and ἡδονή (hedone), that tangled etymological origin that denotes a surrender to pleasure. 

Let me gather these loops. Let me speak of beauty. 


A poor, uninteresting, slate-coloured scrap of healthy liver remains at the top-left, but it is easily ignored and looks like it will soon submit to a despoliation of its own making. 

The morbid anatomy is bloated, turgid, distended. Bent on a supra-generative task. 

Hues of oyster blue and dust vivify the flesh. A necrotic pallor is not necessarily white, and its tones appear spectrally indecisive, difficult to place on a chromatic spectrum. Colour briefly discerns ovoid, pinched and vermiform guises, only to pitch them again into amorphousness. 

Boundaries are intimated here and there, but never clearly limned.

The mass struggles with its own containment. How to rein it in when one’s reigning characteristic is to proliferate? 


Somewhere in its contours, a pearl grapples with its own indeterminacy. This is the untold tension of the seemingly virtuous pearl. Lustre betrays limits, disquiets boundaries. 

Shimmer hints at a surface by finding, striking and illuminating an edge. 

Yet, the very instance of shedding light contains, too, a dazzling confusion. A puzzling of the surface. 

At the edges, the liver’s cells are devoted to a perpetual auto-bissection, dissolution, reconfiguration. The lithograph portrays the cytokinesis in a flecked pointillism, a testament to this perennial becoming. 

The infected hepatic amassment glistens. 


That which was once apparent and carried on the sleeve can no longer be observed by the eye. It is unstable, manifold, elusive. The gleam subsumes the surface. 

The liver shifts, quivers. Movement is a kind of opacity, since a kinetic object cannot be stilled and examined. 

The shimmering surface refuses apprehension, perception. There is unknowability, an epistemological instability. Here, the surface tension of iridescence deflects cognitive attention.


Let me consider beauty, like the intrusion of a grain of sand into an oyster’s shell. 

Let me consider intrusion, the cystic kind that makes one lose one’s head. 

Let me consider pleasure, like the attack of an eagle on what could be, by now, your best loved viscera.

In this interview-essay, I spoke with artist Rosanna Bruno, collaborator of Anne Carson on The Trojan Women: A Comic (Bloodaxe Books, 2021), about her practice as an illustrator. Bruno’s illustrations offer the reader an oblique entry into a devastated Troy: they are translation "at a slant". This interview thinks about how Bruno’s illustrative abstraction and figuration of the various elements of the Ancient Greek tragedy as act as an extension of translation’s problem and delightful potential. I was interested in the use of humour and the comic book form to counterpoint the tragedy and broaden its accessibility, all while extending, magnifying and retuning its poignancy.

This piece is forthcoming in Anne Carson's Euripides: Takes on H of H Playbook and The Trojan Women, Classical Antiquity, vol. 42 iss. 2, University of California Press (2023).

Grey photocopy-style background overlain with text.
Excerpt from "Slanted Translations"
Grey photocopy-style background overlain with text.
Excerpt from "Slanted Translations"
Grey photocopy-style background overlain with text.
Excerpt from "Slanted Translations"
Grey photocopy-style background overlain with two square photographs, one of Anne Carson and one of Rosanna Bruno.
Excerpt from "Slanted Translations." Left, Anne Carson. Right, Rosanna Bruno.

Warning: This section contains mature or explicit content.

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"Ruminations on surfeit; Mouth as place; or The hollowness of concavity" experiments with affect, ekphrasis, and theory.

The ceiling is ribbed and fans out from a central, hard rachis. The carpet, though well-trodden and used to pattering, is still a trip hazard. It is such a source of frustration, always rucking up and exposing the uneven floors when the door is left open too long! Look here, under the carpet, see the moisture. It always pools there, for the floor is soft and sunken. All around – they would never dare set foot on the carpet! – are these bony overcrowded swirls, all set in tight pink upholstery. And look! They hang from above too. Now you understand that they can, unannounced, come down snicker-snack. Bared at the front – that one is chipped. It once had a keen edge, the subject of much aesthetic consternation. And behind us, bringing up the rear – that one was crowned white in an effort to appease its carping. Look there – the space funnels in the back, anticipating the bile. See the ceiling melt into a pulp that swings down between two hard, red dahlias that secrete pus all year round. The walls sweat with the pressure to be of consequence, precipitating a wetness on every surface. The effort of dragging air into the lungs discourages talking. Winds gargle through here sporadically but this never really succeeds in evacuating the heavy, brothy smell. The smell of things left here too long. You might find yourself wading thickly through them – or wait! there they are, under and above and all around – unseen, but these are the things that muffle.

Things have always filled this place. See my tongue slip forward, cajoling and wetter than before, welcoming your presence here. It is no intrusion, for her mouth is a receptor-cum-receptacle. She has ensured it knows how to receive more than gustatory stimuli. Suckered onto the teeth, peppermint and liquorice tea, inhaler, cock, eccies, finger (not mine), pins, needles. And plenty more, menthol ciggies, valerian, pens, someone else’s pants, salt and vinegar hula hoops. A palimpsestic pile of shit. Horror vacui. A site of accumulation.

She wonders,
I have a mouth so why won’t I scream?
Because this place has been
shoved full, filled in and shut the fuck up

Self-censorship happens in the closed mouth, as the tongue taps rehearsal upon rehearsal on the back of the teeth. I can’t shit. The sucking of the oral drive shares with the anal a certain drawing towards and into oneself, the drive toward gagging and constipation. This drive toward surfeit serves to dampen the echo of the empty, which is to say capitalism seeks to abolish death. The anal retainer is the collector par excellence, her mouth the collector’s room. A place might only be what it is saturated with. A kitchen is only a kitchen by virtue of its stove, oven, sink, pans, and so on, and she is barred from imagining a space without use or contents. By which she means I can only ever be what I fill myself with. Through possession she wishes to become thick with them, taking on their significance and accruing their cultural capital. Mulching it between the teeth, rotten and sour against the gums, no toothpick can dislodge it because she has meshed its haptic boundaries so tightly with her own. To lade oneself in this way is to abhor the empty because it has been dubbed vacuous.

The full-length version of this piece was published in DreamsTimeFree #2: Soft Tissue, TACO!.