Schmaltzy and disenchanted apocalypses by Rachel Maclean

In London, fairy tales, children’s television, product advertising, and internet pop videos become a critical mirror for our society.

Rachel Maclean, Zabludowicz Collection, London. Spite Your Face, 2017. Digital video installation. Commissioned by Scotland + Venice 2017. Courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection.

In August, Rachel Maclean, a Glasgow-based artist who studied painting at Edinburgh College of Art and represented Scotland at the last Venice Biennale, spent a month working, sleeping, eating and daily living in Birmingham’s huge shopping centre.

By the end of it she had completed a short and unexpected film based on her experience. But actually this is not her last endeavour.

She just introduced, for her second time as exhibiting artist at the Zabludowicz Collection in London, three recent works: I’m Terribly Sorry (2018), Spite Your Face (2017) and Make Me Up (2018). As usual, in the wake of her overflowing poetics, Maclean’s costumes are artworks in themselves – obsessively elaborate, made in showy colours, with inharmonious and discordant details such as accentuated teeth, overly wide eyes or melting skin.

In London, linking the three movies to each other is the unique way Maclean tackles head-on such timely themes as nationalism, populism, capitalist consumption and gender politics, creating stories and scenarios that lure us in with saccharine seduction before shocking us with moments of brutal intensity.

In this premiere she is seeking, as she also sought in the past, to call into question the seductive and often oppressive influence of mass-media and ultra-consumption behaviours over our individual and collective identities. Turning the green-screen special effects on herself in a game of extended role playing of fantasy Hollywood, fashion, mass advertising, fairy tales characters and affectation poses, Maclean ultimately called her audience's attention to the powerful machinery and make-up that lay behind the countless images circulating in an incessantly public, plugged-in culture.

This is also a reason why she started out playing the multiple characters in her videos herself, with overabundant costuming and prosthetics, even though now she is also working with actors.

Rachel Maclean, I’m Terribly Sorry, 2018, Virtual Reality digital production still. Courtesy of the artist, Werkflow and Zabludowicz Collection
Rachel Maclean, I’m Terribly Sorry, 2018, Virtual Reality room, Courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection

But in the Zabludowicz Collection’s venue, the former Methodist chapel that houses the collection and that was built between 1867 and 1871, Spite Your Face strikes more intensely visitors’ attention, if compared to the same work realized for the 2017 Venice Biennale, where it represented Scotland in a projection set into Chiesa di Santa Caterina.

In Venice, the projection seemed to absorb or reflect Italian masters and narrative landscapes influence, for instance, offering crowded, flattened worlds probably belonging to Giotto frescos or Piero della Francesca’s one-point perspectives. But in London, The Spite Your Face 37-minutes loop, encompassing not a real end or a true beginning, appears empowered by a new sound mix and it is shown in a space decked in gold and blue fabric and carpet that extends the film’s palette of clichéd Venetian opulence.

Mclean's many variations on the methods of self-portraiture share a single, notable feature: in the vast majority of her portraits she directly confronts the viewer's gaze, no less in the case of posed sex dolls, or Pinocchios, as though to suggest that an underlying penchant for deception is perhaps the only valuable element that truly unites us.

But the real protagonist at Zabludowicz Collection in London is the new commissioned work titled I’m Terribly Sorry, is the first virtual reality work she realizes, made in collaboration with Werkflow. In a narrowed room, enveloped by huge Union Jacks, two black eye-viewers let visitors compose an hyper-apocalyptic panorama, filled with tourist merchandise such as Big Ben keyrings and London bus teapots.

Finally, in the Back Gallery there’s an exclusive installation of Make Me Up (2018), a portrait on beauty industries and subjectivities (Instagrammers and vloggers) composing a darkly-comic film takes a satirical look at the contradictory pressures faced by women today. It examines how television and social media can be fun and expressive spaces to explore identity, but simultaneously a gilded prison that encourages women to conform to strict beauty ideals.

Exhibition Title:
Rachel Maclean
Opening dates:
From 20 September to 16 December, 2018
Zabludowicz Collection
176 Prince of Wales Road, London NW5 3PT

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