Corp’rate Day

thoughts on art and fiction

The Shark Prince

Laurence Figgis, The Shark Prince, 2023, Watercolour and pencil on paper, 21 x 21 cm

I want to tell you about an acquaintance of mine—old Princeps Squalus.  Do you know him? And his wife, the Princess Ahreal. Do you know them? Have you been to one of their spoken word events? Have you been to their home? Did I tell you about their wonderful [BONE BROTH] [ALMOND MILK] [LANA DEL REY] [MUBI]? (You should see the size of their [MUBI]!  It’s enormous!) Did I tell you about my [SUPERSOFT DRESSING GOWN] [LONGER FLEECE] [LEMONS UNWAXED]? Did I tell you about my [AUTHENTIC SELF]? Did I tell you about the Shark Prince?

It was a rough day—[PENNE] the waves were shrink-wrapped, the clouds were cotton wool, the seagulls made of papier mâché.  Far below the fluffed edges of the clouds, and beyond the soaring seagulls’ wings, the crew were hard at work.  A pungent smell arose from the vast net in which their craniates were drowning.  ‘A fine strong wind,’ said the salty old sailor, stroking his beard. ‘Poseidon must be in a generous mood’. ‘Oh yes,’ said his friend, the prince. ‘Really generous.’  He lurches again over the side, his face coloured a sickly shade of green. ‘As to Poseidon,’ he shouts, coming up for air, ‘I don’t believe in all that nautical nonsense’. The sailor is horrified. He brandishes the fish he is holding in his gnarled right hand. ‘You’ve spent too long on dry land, my lad!’  As he flaps the fish in the gurning prince’s face, the creature escapes from his red fist and dives overboard. Rapidly, it plunges down into the black groaning bowels of the ocean. Deep in the water, the little fish pauses, glances back at the looming hull—and breathes a sigh of relief. The drink lightens as he descends.

We see a dead shopping mall. This is where the fish hang about. There are lots of them today, out shopping. As he wanders in the dead mall, the fish of our acquaintance is surprised by a warbling noise—a shrill coloratura— that seems to be coming from the phone shop. He sees that its window is bathed in a blueish watery light, and that, behind the window, the phones waft gently from side to side like sea-fronds. Gradually a human form is revealed, swimming beyond the phones, her massive hair floating behind her.  ‘Ahreal!’ shouts the fish. ‘Ahreal!’ ‘Flander!’ cries the mermaid in return. And swims out of the shop to meet him. She stealthily shows the fish what she is holding in her left hand. ‘Another phone!’ says Flander, incredulous. ‘Lol— I didn’t pay for it!’ says the mermaid, flippantly.

The shopping mall is fluid, immersive, weightless, a boundless space of floating movement, where escalators glide. Ahreal likes to wander about in all the drowned bright places of capitalist excess. She likes to go to the mall and sit beside the escalator for hours and make sarcastic commentary on the orgy of aquatic consumption. She likes to purchase things—ironically. She likes to steal them.  She frequently goes shop-lifting with her friends Crab and Flander. Today she acquires some hoop earrings, [CHECKED LOUNGEWEAR], some [ZESTY VANILLA BATH BOMBS] and a used copy of Katrina Palmer’s The Dark Object, which she lifts from the small independent bookshop opposite Girl Heaven. She is about to pocket a new pair of [MUBI]s—when they are chased off by a security guard with a huge and rather sinister dorsal fin, whose executioner’s teeth narrowly avoid slicing the mermaid’s tail in half. ‘I don’t know why you bother!’ says Crab, gasping for breath (as they hide from the security guard behind a wall of plastic shrubbery in Starbucks). ‘You’re a princess. You can afford to buy whatever you want’. ‘It’s not as much fun when you pay for it,’ says the mermaid, saucily. Flander peers through the plastic foliage, terrified to catch sight of the security guard with his dorsal fin and stiletto teeth, caked with the bones of minnows. He asks the mermaid, ‘If sharks were men, would they be nicer to the other fishes?’ The mermaid sips her oat milk Frappuccino. ‘Girlfrien’,’ she says, ‘If sharks were men, they would be super-nice to all the little fish. They would build enormous boxes in the ocean, with all kinds of food inside, both vegetable and animal. They would take care that the boxes always had fresh water, and if, for example, a little fish were to injure a fin, it would immediately be bandaged, so that it would not die and be lost to the sharks before its time’. ‘Who said that?’ says Flander, aware that a joke is being made at his expense. ‘Bertolt Brecht!’ says the mermaid triumphantly. Crab rolls their eyes. ‘Well, I only quote from the best,’ says the mermaid sheepishly. Crab clacks their claws together. ‘You forgot to tell Flander about the schools.’ ‘Schools?’ says Flander. ‘Yes, there would be schools in the big boxes, where the fish would learn how to swim into the sharks’ jaws. There would, of course, be pictures. There would be beautiful pictures, in which the sharks’ teeth were portrayed in magnificent colours and their jaws as pure pleasure gardens, in which one could romp about splendidly.  In short,’ said the mermaid, ‘if sharks were men, they would for the first time bring art to the ocean’. ‘And what if men were fish,’ says little Flander innocently. ‘They would be sharks!’ says Crab.

Afterwards they go to the dingy apartment, housed in the complex attached to the mall, that Ahreal rents with money from her trust-fund. The rooms are stuffed to the gunnels with plastic crap, stolen from the mall, and covered with dog-eared posters of Morrissey and [LANA DEL REY]. Ahreal plays music from a tinny-speakered tape machine. She shares with her friends a new piece of performance poetry she is working on. The poem—a piece of autofiction—is very emotional and authentic—and at the end, Ahreal wipes away tears. She asks her friends for some honest feedback. ‘You said “I want” too many times,’ says Crab, after pausing to reflect. ‘And I don’t like your self-conscious habit of missing out the letter g, when speaking the gerund form. There’s something a bit—I don’t know—phoney about it—and not in a good way’. Ahreal pouts. She is generally in a bad mood today. She prostrates herself before the Morrissey poster and sings sadly: Never forget the songs/That made you laugh/And the ones that made you cry/ When you lay in awe/On the bedroom floor… ‘I had a fight with Daddy,’ she tells them. ‘He doesn’t understand me. He doesn’t understand why I want to leave the ocean-world and go and live on dry land. He says I’m ashamed of my background, that I’m ashamed of my sisters, and I’m ashamed of him’. ‘And what did you say?’ asks Crab. ‘I told him not to confuse shame with ambition. There’s just no way I can be creatively fulfilled down here. There are so few opportunities to be—well—validated —in the abyss…’ (‘Tell me about it!’ says Crab.) And she stretches up her long, exfoliated arms towards the sun, which is just visible through the many fathoms of dark blue water… Even as she reaches out, the sun is momentarily extinguished. A [DARK OBJECT] looms briefly overhead, a leviathan which throws the apartment and the dead mall into fleeting ominous darkness. She swims up to investigate, wearily pursued by Crab and Flander.  It is of course the prince’s ship. ‘What a beautiful shark!’ says the meta-mermaid as she gazes at the upright figure of the prince. She is trying really hard to be sarcastic—though her heart is breaking. Her tears fall on the deck. ‘Remember yourself!’ says Crab. ‘He is our oppressor.’ ‘I don’t care!’ says Ahreal dreamily. ‘He can eat me any time’. ‘Sell out!’ yells Crab. ‘Oh, be quiet!’ says the mermaid, and she continues to gaze at the Shark Prince, drooling all over the deck.


Brecht, Bertolt. Stories of Mr Keuner. Martin Chalmers trans. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2001.

This excerpt from a work of fiction was recited before a live audience for ‘Class Matters’, a day-long event organized by FACS (Fine Art Critical Studies) at the Glasgow School of Art, 9th May 2023.

©Laurence Figgis, 2023

Laurence Figgis, Faire: to do / to make (a costume), 2023, acrylic paint on hooded top (cotton / spandex), dim. variable