Isabella Shields

Thesis title: The Brutality of Fact: Ethics and Identification in Contemporary Women's Life-Writing


Isabella Shields is a writer and curator (b. 1995, Glasgow). She is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh, and teaches English Literature there and at Edinburgh Napier University. Her critical work focuses on trauma theory and postmodernity in literature, art, and film. Her ongoing PhD thesis on ethics and identification in American women’s life-writing, ‘The Brutality of Fact’, has been recommended for publication following entry to the Peter Lang Emerging Scholars Competition in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies 2022. She has been a member of the James Tait Black Award for Biography panel since 2021.

She established 16 Nicholson Street Gallery in Glasgow and acted as its director and curator from 2016-2023, editing, producing and writing for several art books while operating the gallery.

She authored and performed the radio play A Common Spring for Radiophrenia in 2020, with a live original score by Adam Benmakhlouf.

She has been an Arts and Culture Contributor for BBC Radio Scotland since 2021.


University of Edinburgh: MSc Literature and Modernity - Distinction (2019)

University of Glasgow: MA English Literature and History of Art - First Class Joint Honours (2017)

Responsibilities & affiliations

Edinburgh University Life-Writing Network. 

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 


University of Edinburgh Napier

School of Arts and Creative Industries

English Literature: American Outlaws, Introduction to Literature: Texts and Contexts, 19th Century Literature 

Research summary

  • Life-writing
  • Trauma theory
  • Modernism
  • Postmodernism
  • Poststructuralism
  • Interdisciplinary practice
  • Existentialism
  • Ethics

Conference details

'Autotheory Conference 2022: Thinking through Self, Body and Practice'

26-28th October 2022. University of Glasgow/Tramway: (in-person and international web conference). .

Autotheory as Haunted Mansion in Carmen Maria Machado’s In The Dream House

As a chapter of my PhD on ethical representation and the praxis of identification in autotheory, this paper explores how Machado approaches autotheory as a traumatised and shifting form. Using tropes from memoir, fairy tales, and horror films to footnote and index experiences of abuse, Machado interrogates what nuanced and negative representation means for queer people, finding an archive to refract traumatic experiences through to investigate self-perception and self-representation. As a bisexual Latin American woman in America, Machado explores cultural alienation and how it affected her self-perception and expectations of how she should be treated, examining instructive culturally received ideals and navigating her socio-sexual relationship to them. In this undertaking Machado has developed a vulnerable, care-informed work that queers the forms she refers to as a means of instating a literary and cinematic history which recognises and responds to bodily and emotional unsafety with speculative frameworks to negotiate that recognition.


‘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.

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.

Text contributed to photojournal focussing on the concept of masculinity. Nov 2015. Earth Saga Press.