Rachel Maclean is increasingly establishing herself as one of the most influential and distinctive contemporary artists in the U.K; and her exhibition at the Zabludowicz Collection in London, has made it abundantly clear why. The exploration of hyper-real worlds critiques the current state of society, politics and digital media, through exaggerated language. The environments she portrays is somewhat nightmare-ish, but also has an element of familiarity.
The first piece of work you see upon entering the gallery space is titled Spite Your Face (2017). Drawing on fairy-tales and media from her childhood, Maclean’s film is referencing the tale of Pinocchio – a puppet whose nose grows after telling a lie, but with a dystopian and radical twist. The film is responding to the political climate around Western society during 2016-17, particularly referencing the U.K. Brexit vote and the US presidential election. The film examines the current post-truth era, where objective facts can be considered less influential then personal belief, and is further exacerbated by social media algorithms. Exhibited in the Main Hall of the gallery, the interior is dressed up and designed to resonate with the film. Silk blue curtains and gold sashes are draped from the ceiling, coming together to look like a royal hall, fully immersing you into Maclean’s make-believe environment.The portrait format of this video is unusual, compared to the traditional horizontal mode that we watch films and TV shows on, but we are increasingly watching more vertical videos on our phones. Perhaps this was Maclean’s intention, maybe she’s utilising the screen in this way as a metaphor; to reference that our use of mobiles as sources of information should be taken with a pinch of salt. Showing the video in this way presents another dimension to the viewer, one that isn’t too dissimilar to our own. Maclean states that the film ‘presents a post-truth dystopia where the world is turned on its head’ so turning the film from landscape to portrait could be a representation of this.
The second part of the exhibition is an interactive experience called I’m Terribly Sorry, a virtual reality film. The experience is set in a dystopian urban British landscape, filled with oversized tourist merchandise – reflecting a culture of insatiable voyeurism, and questioning what it is to be British in a post Brexit world. As the player in this seemingly post-apocalyptic world, you are presented as a tourist. With nothing to arm yourself with, except a mobile phone, you can only take photographs of the giant zombie-like characters – possibly indicating that in modern society, you can do as much damage with a mobile phone as you can a weapon. Experiencing this work in virtual reality is something very different in contemporary art, but it’s something that is being used more and more by artists as its popularity grows within digital media. Maclean is re-appropriating the idea of virtual reality for a piece of art that is critiquing the very idea of what reality is.
In the back gallery, we are presented with the exclusive showing of Maclean’s most recent film Make Me Up (2018), made in collaboration for BBC. Maclean plays the role of an authoritarian diva who speaks with the voice of Kenneth Clark from a BBC show in the sixties. This is the first film that Maclean employs other actors to play the remaining characters. The dark film takes place in a world where surveillance, violence and submission are normalised. The film explores contemporary feminism, body image and the challenges that women face against patriarchal abusers of power. Maclean states that the film allows for a ‘discussion of how women’s bodies, voices and minds contend with a world that all too often prefers you to be slim, silent and subservient.’ (Maclean, 2018). The characters have names like Siri and Alexa, referencing how modern day technology uses female voices and names for virtual assistants, reinforcing the gender stereotype and patriarchal expectation that women are here to serve. The story details how a young girl called Siri finds herself trapped inside a pink, hyper-baroque styled house where she has to compete with her housemates for survival. The film revolves around the ‘idealistic’ woman, who is pretty, doesn’t eat and is submissive. Like the Spite Your Face room, the décor of the room is decorated in pinks and purples, resonating with the ‘dream house’ in the film, again allowing for an immersive experience.
Rachel Maclean’s work is being showed at the Zabludowicz Collection until the 16th December. If you’re particularly interested in art that critiques contemporary society, whilst being somewhat comedic and scary, Maclean’s work is definitely one to check out. You can also see the film at various cinema screenings in the U.K, which can be found here: https://www.makemeupfilm.com/#screenings and it will also be broadcasted on BBC4 In November.