Rachel Maclean: Annual Commission

If you came here to feel comfortable, Rachel Maclean has other plans. Never one to shy away from addressing society’s crumbling virtues, the Scottish artist serves a rather large, hard-to-swallow dose of unforgiving truths in her latest installation display. Featuring three rooms of immersive madness, each as bizarre and brilliant as the next, prepare to have your conscience seriously stirred.

Big yellow bows separated by flashes of rich blue sash adorn the room, channelling garish vibes not far from a glorified circus tent. Cheap satin and dramatic draping scream low budget wedding, with a questionable penchant for bad taste. Taking centre stage is ‘Spite Your Face,’ a film made by Maclean for the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017, showing on a large screen. The story revisits the classic Italian folktale ‘Pinocchio,’ morphing it into a modern day tale of moral recognition. Made amidst a divided Brexit nation paired with an almost comical US Presidential election, the viewer is confronted with a valid interpretation of real life power struggles in the modern world. Throughout the video, a perfume named ‘Untruth,’ is falsely advertised by the main character ‘Pic,’ who exchanges lies in a desperate bid for fame and money.


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Installation view: Spite Your Face, 2017. Digital video installation. Commissioned by Scotland + Venice 2017.  I’m Terribly Sorry, 2018. Virtual reality installation. Produced in collaboration with Werkflow. Commissioned in partnership with Arsenal Contemporary. Courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection. Photos: David Bebber


In Maclean’s first VR piece, the viewer is beckoned into the next room with a headset, earphones and controller to view ‘I’m Terribly Sorry,’ a collaborative virtual experience with Werkflow. Inside a dystopian city, where giant souvenirs replace buildings, I’m immediately approached by figures with phones for heads, middle class and fitting stereotypical London characters. They start animatedly talking at me, talking over each other, abruptly asking for money in between personal complaints and first world problems. As the amount of bodies start to increase and overwhelm me inside the VR set, my only weapon of defence is a pretend smartphone in which I can snap away, taking photos whenever I feel like it. A direct comment at how we quickly reach for our phone in crisis, is a disturbing and pivotal notion of how much trust and security we place in technology.

‘Make Me Up,’ is found in the back final room, a film produced by Hopscotch Films, with NVA, commissioned by the BBC and 14-18 NOW. Created as part of the ‘Represent,’ series, the project is a set of commissions made to reflect the 100th anniversary of the ‘Representation of the People Act,’ a bill in which women were allowed to vote. The video itself is originally a response to the 1960’s brutalist building ‘St Peter’s Seminary,’ near Glasgow, coupled with the late 60’s TV series ‘Civilisation,’ hosted by Kenneth Clark.


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Installation view: Rachel Maclean, Zabludowicz Collection, London. Make Me Up (gallery edition), 2018. Digital video installation. Commissioned by the BBC and 14-18 NOW. Courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection. Photos: David Bebber


The following scenes take place in a sickly sweet, candy floss coloured palace, transforming the outer concrete into a girly pink and purple facade. With Maclean playing the main character, she speaks chillingly with the voice of Clark, embodying authority and arrogant expertise. Toying with her power she introduces ‘Siri,’ a new AI, to a group of other female robots who she already claims power over. The girls are continually surveilled and have to prove themselves in a set of challenges, Maclean’s character takes great pleasure in controlling. Made to look soft, feminine and innocent by appearance, the story is laced with a dark and sinister undertone, depicting the struggles modern day feminists face against the patriarchy.

Make sure to visit with plenty of time to spare, leave your expectations at home and prepare to be plunged into an uncomfortable but thrilling visual treat. An impressive and brutally honest depiction of the reality around us, Maclean sugar coats our living nightmares in a way you cant ignore.

Showing at Zabludowicz Collection, until 16th December.