Isabella Shields

Thesis title: The Brutality of Fact: Ethical Representation and the Praxis of Identification in Contemporary Women's Autotheory


Isabella Shields is a writer and curator, and more recently a tutor at the University of Edinburgh in English Literature. Her academic and critical focuses are on trauma theory, intermediality, and the dissolution of boundaries within culturally prominent systems of representation. 

Shields has been director and curator of 16 Nicholson Street, a contemporary art gallery in Glasgow, since she established the gallery in 2016.

Her critical writing has been published by FORUM Postgraduate Journal, The Skinny, and The Polyphony. In 2021 she edited and introduced the art books 'Martyrdom, Body, State: Manifesting Power' by Katerina Sidorova, 'Complete Destruction of the Real Body', 'Thriving in Disturbed Ground' (both by multiple artists), and was a contributing author for Natsumi Sakamoto's 'Knitting the Intangible Voices' having curated Sakamoto's exhibition of the same name at 16NSt in June of that year. She edited and introduced 'Reparative Trespassing' (2022) by Moira Salt and Fiona McGurk and is currently developing a publication with the Latin American artist Atabey Mamasita. 

The radio adaptation of her work-in-progress novel 'A Common Spring'  was selected by Radiophrenia for international broadcast in November 2020, with an original score by Adam Benmakhlouf. 'A Common Spring' was based on a concept by Harlan McGlinchey, and the radio adaptation was performed with McGlinchey. 

She presented her paper on the autobiographical work of Chris Kraus and James Joyce at the Anxious Forms Conference 2018. In 2021 she hosted the web conference for the book launch of 'New Rituals/Neue Rituale' by Oktavia Schreiner.


MSc. Literature and Modernity with Distinction from The University of Edinburgh (2019).

M.A. History of Art and English Literature First Class Joint Honours from The University of Glasgow (2017) .

Responsibilities & affiliations

Association of Women Art Dealers - London Chapter.

Scottish Contemporary Art Network. 

University and College Union.

Undergraduate teaching

University of Edinburgh

School of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures

English Literature: Literary Studies 1B

Research summary

  • Life writing: autofiction, autotheory, and autobiography
  • Trauma theory
  • Postmodernism
  • Modern and contemporary art
  • Intermediality

Current research interests

In my PhD I study the work of Joan Didion, Maggie Nelson, Chris Kraus, and Carmen Maria Michado to examine the communication of female subjectivity as culturally submerged in violence in American women’s writing. Each writer’s work demonstrates the value of finding a repository of cultural and political debate in intellectual and literary history. Their writing allows the reader to gain a certain purchase on contemporary politics that is both salutary and valuable as their modes of self-representation resist contribution to the echo-chambers of political and social absolutism. Their meditations on the condition of their culture and that which is symptomatic of it have created interdisciplinary documents of the contemporary American experience. Personal and social histories are treated idiosyncratically by the authors, a practice essential to the process of collapsing boundaries between the private and public. They write with a clarity and brevity of expression to communicate what Francis Bacon termed, “the brutality of fact”, developing their bodies of work on reflections on cultural violence and gender. Although they are acutely aware of the role of media in this violence, their ambivalence around what is meaningful and what is senseless engenders duality in their approaches to didacticism. Their meditations on the condition of their culture, and that which is symptomatic of it have created intermedial documents of contemporary American existentialism. The idea of exploding privacy through confronting abjection as a reconciliation of the public and personal are examined as means of reclaiming selfhood, as will the collection and publication of significant memories in the narrativizing, reproducing, and commodifying of the fragmented self, establishing auto-theory and life-writing as feminist practices that facilitate the expression of critique as embodied experience.

Reparative Trespassing

16 Nicholson Street · 24 March, 2022

'Our knowledge of the world is informed by our history. Skewed data sets distort perceptions and opinions, and corrupt predictions for the future. Bias is encoded in archives and in prognostics. However, we can attempt to redress gaps and omissions by turning them into catalysts for care, time-travel, speculation, or even accountability. 

Artbook developed in tandem with the exhibition 'Needs and Freedoms' by Moira Salt and Fiona McGurk at 16 Nicholson Street, curated by Aga Paulina Młyńczak.

Edited and introduced by Isabella Shields.


Thriving in Disturbed Ground 

16 Nicholson Street · Oct 29, 2021

This text is the exhibition companion to Thriving in Disturbed Ground, and is a limited edition print of 40. The publication includes artwork and writing by the artists Niamh Moloney, Caitlyn Holly Main, Hanne Lillee, M.E. Smit-Dicks, and Oktavia Schreiner, and was curated by Isabella Shields and Aga Paulina Młyńczak.

Curated, designed and edited by Isabella Shields and Aga Paulina Młyńczak


Complete Destruction of the Real Body

Apr 12, 2021 · 16 Nicholson Street

Adam Benmakhlouf, Rosa Klerkx, James St. Findlay, Jonny Walker with A Library of Olfactive Material Edited and Introduced by Isabella Shields.  A publication revolving around the scent development for the exhibition ‘Meat World’, featuring an interview with Clara Weale of A Library of Olfactive Material, exhibition documentation, and personal accounts of the experience of making the fragrance by the artists. Text: Adam Benmakhlouf, Rosa Klerkx, Isabella Shields, James St. Findlay, Jonny Walker and Clara Weale

Edited, introduction, and designed by Isabella Shields. 


Martyrdom, Body, State: Manifesting Power

16 Nicholson Street · Mar 12, 2021 

On December 22, 1849, Fedor Dostoevsky, amongst 24 prosecuted for political activism ‘Petrashevsky circle’ members, was led before the firing squad but received a last-minute reprieve. The first three of the sentenced men were tied to the poles for execution as the amnesty was announced. What Dostoevsky believed to be his final five minutes before learning that the execution was called off is the conceptual scaffold around which this multifaceted solo show. Sidorova researches and interrogates the performative techniques used by the state to affirm power in times of tyranny – now and then. 

The 5 minute interval reflected in the public, virtual performance at Glasgow Green is also about a practice of being beyond all official narratives and yet inevitably captured in the greater dramatic arch of the state. Living one’s impressions and thoughts in real time comes at a cost. Can we even exist in a reality separated from its own fiction? And, how is it possible through the work of art?

Original text by Katerina Sidorova. With contributions by Nell Cardozo and Aga Paulina Mlynczak. 

Edited and introduced by Isabella Shields. 


A Common Spring

Radiophrenia · Nov 22, 2020  


A Common Spring​ is the radio adaptation of Isabella Shields’ work-in-progress horror novel of the same name, accompanied by a sonic response from the artist Adam Benmakhlouf.

Taking its name from Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Alone’, ​A Common Spring follows five content creators for ​‘Interim​’ magazine who have been sent to cover the village of Hareton Gowt’s annual fete. The existing romantic and resentful tensions in the group complicate their difficult engagement with the villagers, and realities and relationships become increasingly destabilised as their coverage of the fete takes increasingly horrifying turns. In its mood, the story itself is designed to create a pervasive sense of disturbance and dissonance. As it develops thematically, it becomes a consideration of personal authenticity, the erosion of individualism, and the mutability of selfhood.

In turn, Benmakhlouf’s soundscape combines original composition and bootlegged mixtape in a theme of suspense that emphasises the multiplicity and re-figurations of the story through an anxious interaction of a diversity of audio materials. For ​A Common Spring​, Adam treats the sonic and textural audio elements as a further means of creating a surprising and out of the ordinary encounter in order to facilitate a sense of leaving the rigid patterns of daily avoidance or emotional disengagement.

A Common Spring is based on an original concept by and has been developed with Harlan McGlinchey, whose vocal performance features in this broadcast.


'Gregg Bordowitz: Criticising Representation in Order to Represent People With AIDS'. 

Gregg Bordowitz’s literary and artistic output is seminal to postmodern art theory, institutional critique, and post-AIDS queer theory. This paper demonstrates both the need for appropriate self-representation for People With AIDS, and the insidious culture of disavowal and dehumanisation of PWAs that artists like Bordowitz confronted and discredited

FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture & The Arts, no. 27, Dec. 2018, doi:10.2218/forum.27.2907.


Age of Man.

Photojounal. Nov 2015. Earth Saga Press. 

‘New Rituals/Neue Rituale' - Conference and Book Launch

Friday, 15th October 2021. 16 Nicholson Street (in-person and international web conference). 

The Neue Rituale/New Rituals conference launched the artists’ book and a collective artwork in its own right by Oktavia Schreiner. The contributions were made by invited artists especially for the project and the book as a whole can be seen as an art object. The focus is entirely on emerging artists from Scotland and Austria and what they have to show us today on the subject of rituals in the format of a book. Rituals and art, we often forget, have always gone hand in hand, just as religion, art and science were hardly separable not so long ago. There is something incredibly powerful about rituals and the symbolism that goes with them. As humans, we appear to have a deep need for them. They mark the passing of time, but also give us a foothold in it. They structure what is otherwise a diffuse stringing together of days, hours and years. Without them it would perhaps be a bit like ‘lock-down’ forever.


'Interdisciplinary Perspectives: Words That Maketh Murder'.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 16 Nicholson Street, Webinar Conference (International).

For the Webinar Conference 'Words That Maketh Murder' I presented a paper entitled, 'The Intersection Of Research and Art in ‘As A Pile Of Ash’ and ‘Martyrdom, Body, State: Manifesting Power’ about my experience editing and psuedo-translating Sidorova's book.  

Talks surrrounding Katerina Sidorova's virtual exhibition at 16 Nicholson Street Gallery: 'As a Pile of Ash' (2021). Curated by Aga Paulina Mlynczak and followed by a panel discussion. 


Anxious Forms 2018 - 'Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Bodily Fluids in the Long Nineteenth Century'. 

Friday, 27th July 2018, Aston University, Birmingham.

At Anxious Forms 2018 I presented ‘The Love Letters of James Joyce: Scatological Fetishism, Transgression and National Hygiene Reform in the early 1900s' in order to explore themes related to my current research in the purpose of and psychologies behind representing trauma in auto-fiction.

I spoke on the private correspondence of James Joyce and his common-law wife Nora Barnacle in late 1909. The coprophilial content of these letters aligned with my research in autobiography, abjection and experimental writing in both Modern and Contemporary Literature. The paper investigated sexuality in auto-fiction, which has lead to my evaluation of these letters as relevant to public interest, and something to be included in Joyce’s literary output because of its represenatation of hybrid autobiographical experience and fiction.

The paper then considered Chris Kraus’s 1997 work I Love Dick as a counterpoint to these letters in order to consider intention, content, and gendered sexuality in Joyce’s time period, reflecting on the degree to which sexual behaviours typically capture and reflect the anxieties of their subjects.