‘My work slips inside and outside of history and into imagined futures, creating hyper-glowing, artificially saturated visions that are both nauseatingly positive and cheerfully grotesque’. — Rachel Maclean
‘Glasgow-based artist and filmmaker Rachel Maclean works largely in green screen composite video and digital print, often exhibiting this alongside props, costumes and related sculpture and painting. She is often the only actor or model in her work, playing a variety of characters that mime to appropriated audio and toy with age and gender. These clones embody unstable identities: conversing, interacting and shifting between cartoonish archetypes, ghostly apparitions and hollow inhuman playthings.
‘Her current work is about contemporary British culture and she recreates work in broadcast media, entertainment, and advertising genres such as talent competitions, science fiction animation, children’s shows, royal messages and fireside chats, and product marketing. Her work tends to comment and parody culture through the vehicle of these genres. Fantasy, role playing and humour feature heavily in her work. She works with green screen technique and digital animation. She creates sounds tracks with music and dialogue to accompany her films. Additionally, she makes digital prints of images related to her projects that resemble either out-takes/stills or advertisements and marketing posters. Text is often included.
‘In her videos such as Over The Rainbow, Rachel create synthetic spaces in which Katy Perry discuses teeth whitening with an aristocratic cat, a decapitated diva dances to hip pop and a pastel blue dog sings for The Queen. Stylistically her work explores the aesthetic of Poundland, Youtube, Manga and Hieronymus Bosch, spliced together with MTV-style green screen and channel-changing cuts. Maclean is fascinated by representations of other worlds and unearthly embodiments, and explores the ways in which they project contemporary anxieties and ideals into a mysterious and seductive beyond.
‘”My work is inspired by a number of things at once,” Maclean explains, “and often hinges on a bizarre combination of two apparently conflicting influences, for example Susan Boyle and Heavy Metal in my video I Dreamed A Dream. Where I live at the time I make work is also very influential, as I believe different cultures have different fantasies related to place. For example, I stayed in America for 6 months and became much more concerned by an idealised notion of Scotland, as a land of castles, lochs, monsters and kilts. Whereas I found growing up in Scotland, you are very divorced from this fantasy, and instead the imagination is much more directed to the US, and the glamour and intrigue it conveys to the outsider.”‘ — collaged
Pix & Stills
Rachel Maclean Website
Rachel Maclean’s tumblr
‘RACHEL MACLEAN AND MULTI-COLOURED EXCRETIONS OF HYPER-KITSCH’
Ben Robinson interviews RM @ Yuck ‘n Yum
‘Rachel Maclean: GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN!
‘Where I Make: Rachel Maclean’
‘Rachel Maclean wins Margaret Tait Award’
‘Rachel Maclean Interview: Going Bananas’
‘5 Questions for: Rachel Maclean’
‘Artist Review ONE: Rachel Maclean’
5 questions with Rachel Maclean
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Rachel Maclean interviewed by Summerhall
Rachel Maclean directed music video for Errors’ ‘Pleasure Palaces’
from Daily Metal
Can you tell us how would you describe your work?
Rachel Maclean: My work slips inside and outside of history and into imagined futures, creating hyper-glowing, artificially saturated visions that are both nauseatingly positive and cheerfully grotesque. I am a Glasgow based artist working largely in green screen composite video and digital print, often exhibiting this alongside props, costumes and related sculpture and painting. I am the only actor or model in my work and invent a variety of characters that mime to appropriated audio and toy with age and gender. These clones embody unstable identities: conversing, interacting and shifting between cartoonish archetypes, ghostly apparitions and hollow inhuman playthings. My videos attempt to stylistically unify the aesthetic of The Dollar Store, Youtube, Manga, Hieronymus Bosch and High Renaissance painting with MTV style green screen and channel changing cuts.
What has prompted you to create your beautifully grotesque beings?
RM: I’ve always been fascinated by images which are at once compelling and repulsive. I like to toe a fine line between an aesthetic of benign, saccharine cuteness and a distastefully baroque form of grotesquely. I take inspiration from a whole range of sources, everything from Disney Princess to William Hogarth. I think the expression or experience of disgust, whether at a work of art or a bodily function, is very interesting and is indicative of our complex social relationship with others. It is also often reflective of the desire to recoil and distance ourselves from the experience of a particular class, race, gender or sexual orientation. I think someone like Katie Price is a good example of this relationship and in many ways performs the function of the Victorian Freak Show for the 21st Century. She’s reflective upon a certain kind of social class that are regarded as wealthy but tastelessly brash by the conservative middle classes. Everything about her image and actions entertains us through it’s grotesquely exaggerated performance of this stereotype and confirms for many the sense of their own relative superiority.
Do you consider your work political?
RM: Yes, in some ways. Although there is some work that is more directly political than others. For example, the recent video I made called The Lion and The Unicorn explores the interrelationship between Scottish and British national identity. This is obviously a very contentious issue given the upcoming Referendum on Scottish Independence in 2014 and I was keen to couch the work very clearly within this debate. However, in this case I intended that my opinion on the issue was left ambiguous, as I was more interested in provoking discussion and at some level unveiling the absurdity of the signifier and semi-historical fictions that play into contemporary political decision making and help form an abstracted sense of national pride.
Would you consider your work is related to the feminist cause? A clear example would be Skin & Bones? Can you explain what is this about?
RM: Yes, I intend for my work to be feminist. Again, this is made explicit in some works and maybe less so in others. In the example you mentioned from the series ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, I intended to create images of woman who appear sexually available and with all the basic masquerade of sexiness, but nonetheless fail in their achievement of this ideal, rendering them tragic, ugly and grotesque. Here I was keen to look at the representation of what I would regard as the Spice Girls, ‘Girl Power’ brand of feminism or to update things a bit, what Beyonce would refer to as a powerful ‘independent woman’. I’m pretty cynical about this kind of pop feminism and believe the it is in many ways it is just a rebranded sexism, which drives an ideal of liberation through financial success, but still expects women to fulfill their role as sexual objects.
In your work you’re the only model and the only actor. Why is it that?
RM: At some level it’s playful and childish, I like dressing up, there is something liberating and interesting about pretending to be someone else. It helps you reflect in a more open way on your own sense of self and question fixed ideas of the person you think you are or want to be. I like to play out and explore the idea that identity and gender are at some level a performance or masquerade and try to create narratives in which very fixed notions of self are exaggerated to the point they become absurd, or alternatively begin to fall apart and are gradually revealed to be unstable and fraudulent.
How do you prepare all your characters?
RM: I design all the costumes, props and face-paint for my work and the characters are usually tied into the larger aesthetic idea for the video. All my characters are an amalgam of reference points and never just a simple imitation of a specific person or typical costume. For example, in my recent video The Lion and The Unicorn, the character of ‘The Queen’ at once references Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elisabeth, wearing a costume recombined from an array of Union Jack merchandise available to celebrate the 2012 Diamond Jubilee.
Most of your work is via digital print and video. How important for an artist is the digital era?
RM: I think the digital era is as important as you want it to be as an artist. I love the possibilities that are opened up by programs like Photoshop and After Effects, but I also think that what interests me about this kind of software is the sense in which it is only ever an adaptation or simulation of methods and techniques available in non-digital media. Almost every tool in Photoshop exists in a physical form, take for example the paintbrush, the pen, the paint-bucket and the hand tool. They don’t necessarily perform exactly the same function, but they use material tools and processes as a starting point. When working I’m often keen to bring styles and processes from older media, particularly painting, into a digital space. Additionally, I think with any celebration of an advance in technology there is always a concurrent denial and nostalgia for the past. For many artists, computer generated images only highlight the nuances of older technologies, for example a lot of people are going back to work in analogue video and film as they recognize it has a quality that can’t be achieved through digital video.
The Lion and The Unicorn (2012)
‘A central strand of Maclean’s work addresses the ideals of Scotland and Scottishness and their reality as portrayed by contemporary mass media. “The Lion and the Unicorn” is a short film in which three archetypal characters debate points of view on nationalism, trade and finance, natural resources and politics. They each use Scotland’s history to expound their arguments, yet their views cannot be reconciled. Maclean uses costumes, makeup and digital retouching to embody each of these Scottish national stereotypes. The video uses audio from television broadcasts, dubbed over Maclean’s performances: the Lion is given Jeremy Paxman’s voice and the Unicorn Alex Salmond’s, as they squabble over the future of Scottish governance.’ — Open Source
Over The Rainbow (short edit, 2013)
‘Inspired by the Technicolor utopias of children’s television, Over The Rainbow (2013) invites the viewer into a shape-shifting world inhabited by cuddly monsters, faceless clones and gruesome pop divas. Shot entirely using green-screen the film presents a computer generated environment, which explores a dark, comedic parody of the fairytale, video game and horror movie genres.’ — RM
‘Germs (2013) is a 3-minute green-screen video, which follows a glamorous female protagonist through a series of advertising tropes. Moving from a perfume to a bathroom cleaner commercial, she converses with a persuasive masked woman and becomes increasingly paranoid about the omnipresence of microscopic germs. Rachel plays every character in the piece.’ — RM
the entire work
The Phantom Band Everybody Knows It’s True (2013)
‘Psychedelic shenanigans ensue when The Phantom Band – who let’s face it, are not known for their retiring attitude to performance – don the face paint, tights and some fairly outlandish costumes in a visual accompaniment for their latest single ‘Everybody Knows It’s True’ directed by artist Rachel Maclean.’ — chemikal
the entire thing
Please, Sir… (2014)
‘There are dozens of ‘Lady Janes’ in the young Scottish artist Rachel Maclean’s Please, Sir …, a two-screen film dialogue recently exhibited at Rowing, London, and previously shown at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts. Maclean plays each of the ten or so characters in the film, which are then copied in as extras, involving a meticulous process of disguise and a camp restaging of self. She is multiplied in mega-pixels but overburdened by objects: flowing peroxide wig, rotting teeth with gold filament, fake tits framed by a nylon ruffle, a market stall necklace that spells the word RICH. Maclean’s Lady Jane – more pub landlady than failed scholar or real life sovereign – also wears a sleazy white gown, complete with all the necessary leopard print: the anti-matter of virginal embodied.’ — Frieze
A Whole New World (2014)
‘“A Whole New World” visualises the fantastical ruins of a fallen empire. Combining grand narratives with cheap product placement, the work explores themes related to British imperial history and national identity. Shot entirely using green-screen, the film presents a computer-generated landscape littered with fallen statues and the distressed paraphernalia of a bygone age. Narrated by a statuesque Britannia Goddess, the narrative adapts a variety of existing tales, including St George and The Dragon and Tarzan. The action frequently shifts genre, moving from all singing, all dancing musical score to dry political debate, sedate period drama to battlefield conflict. Maclean plays all the characters in the work, miming to audio in variety of languages and bedecked in an elaborate combination of prosthetic make-up, historical costume and Union Jack encrusted tourist tat.’ — D&C
Eyes to Me (2015)
‘I recently did a film called Eyes to Me for Channel 4’s Random Acts (commissioned by Film London) where artists are invited to make a three-minute video to be shown between ad breaks on a popular British TV station. With this in mind, I was keen to create something that referenced the pace and spectacle of television, specifically kids’ TV, but gradually shifted tone, becoming darker, weirder and more disturbing as the film progressed, seeming to slowly undermine its formal appearance.’ — RM
the entire work
Feed Me (2015)
‘Rachel Maclean’s dystopian fairytale Feed Me is a sixty-minute film set in a world run by a malicious toy corporation called Smile Inc. Maclean plays all the characters herself, from a Scottish granny to a blue-skinned business executive and a hoard of little girls. She dons rubber gloves, face paint and the occasional prosthetic nose, filming against a green screen before adding backdrops and special effects in postproduction. The smiley appears everywhere, a mutating, feel-good emblem stitched into clothes, transferred onto foreheads, flashing on phone screens and rotating in the sky like a great emoji god.’ — Elephant
Again and Again and Again (2016)
‘A supersaturated satire with a look into the land of data-addicted monk-like figures and dance-crazed rabbits.’ — letterboxd
the entire work
Spite Your Face (2017)
‘Referencing the Italian folk-tale The Adventures of Pinocchio, ‘Spite Your Face’ (2017) advances a powerful social critique, exploring underlying fears and desires that characterise the contemporary zeitgeist. Set across two worlds – with a glittering, materialistic and celebrity-obsessed upper world, and a dark, dank and impoverished lower world – the lure of wealth and adoration entices a destitute young boy into the shimmering riches of the kingdom above. Written in the wake of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, and during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the story is steeped in the political flux and uncertainty of our time. Shown as a perpetual 37-minute loop with no definitive beginning or end, ‘Spite Your Face’ raises issues including the abuse of patriarchal power, capitalist deception, exploitation and the destructive trappings of wealth and fame, all in Maclean’s typically direct and acerbic style.’ — arts-news
Excerpt & interview
Make Me Up (2018)
‘Multimedia artist Rachel Maclean ambitious film unfurls in a seductive and dangerous world where surveillance, violence and submission are a normalised part of daily life. In saccharine pastels, this darkly comic film exposes the heteropatriarchal ideologies embedded in prevailing narratives of gender and beauty. Siri and Alexa have been made over at a hyperreal beauty clinic where the candyfloss décor cannot mask the more sinister happenings. Maclean delivers a searing performance as Figurehead, the splendidly attired pedagogue who presides over the clinic and speaks with the voice of Kenneth Clark, from the high-minded 1960s BBC series Civilisation. Intent on educating her girls on art’s construction of female beauty, Figurehead also remodels them in its image. Cleverly referencing the suffragette Mary Richardson’s 1914 attack on the Rokeby Venus, Make Me Up is on a mission to deconstruct the tradition of patriarchal art criticism.’ — ica
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. The Epstein thing is completely accessible here. It’s not remotely a media obsession here as it is in the States, but it’s getting mentions. ** Steve Erickson, Thank you, Steve. Yes, it’s intense, and, coming on the heels of Kevin Killian’s not at all dissimilar passing, it’s just very strange among many other things. My opinion is that we must recast the role, as difficult as that will be, and continue. We’ll need to have a big meeting about what to do, but I feel very strongly about that. ** Tosh Berman, Thanks, Tosh. Yeah, it’s been a very disorienting, difficult time lately. ** Dominik, Hi, D! Thanks, pal. Yeah, I’m in a bit of a confused daze about it all. Oh, I see, about their expertise and that they’re away. Well, theoretically it seems like you guys could get a lot figured out and done in two weeks if you’ll have a fair amount time to work during those weeks? In any case, it’s so exciting! It’s going to be so fun for you, and so great! Ooh, that’s a really good gif! Thank you. Hm, a fuck you/off themed gif stack sounds mightily appealing to my imagination. I might just look into that and hit you up. Thanks for the great words, my friend. Have a lovely day! ** _Black_Acrylic, Thank you, Ben. Oh, so, as you see, I made a new Rachel Maclean post. She whose work you introduced me to. The old one was too out of date and full of dead videos to restore. Good, I’m glad there are new possible options on the treatment front. Right, I do know that very cool track you linked to, and I can only think that’s thanks to you. ** Bill, Thank you, Bill. Oh, so you were the artist of that art-like looking installation. Nice work! Yes, we’re enjoying tolerable skies at the moment, but, you know, you can’t get complacent about the sky anymore, so … Yes, right? About the gifs and the title’s corralling? That’s what I was thinking too. High five. ** Misanthrope, Hamster. Interesting that hamster owning is still a rite of passage for young’uns. I think even I have heard of Belvis, but I don’t know how. Sounds cool. I’ll go hunt down what surely must be many videos of him singing the ‘King’s’ hits and obscurities. ** Okay. If you don’t know the work of the extravagant Scottish artist Rachel Maclean then today’s your lucky day. See you tomorrow.