Rachel Maclean at Zabludowicz  Collection

Rachel Maclean at Zabludowicz Collection

Rachel Maclean’s exhibition at the Zabludowicz Collection just closed. She is one of the most distinctive voices in the UK art scene. Her work explores consumerism, art history and the realm of feminism in the era of social media, in hearty and cloying, brightly coloured hyperreal spaces. 


She creates her videos with green screen, a technique she started experimenting with at the Edinburgh College of Art: “The nice thing about painting is you can make up the world you want to present. The frustration I had with film before was that no matter what was in your head, it always looked very banal and real. Green screen gives you the option to start collaging your ideas into another world,” she stated in a BBC interview this November. The exhibition showed three of her most recent works.

Spite Your Face (2017), the film Maclean presented for Scotland at the 57th Venice Biennale, is loosely based on the Italian folktale The Adventures of Pinocchio. A penniless boy rises to the golden and glittery world of fame and fortune, thanks to the growth of his phallic nose that enlarges with every lie he says. The film is a continuous loop and the post-modern Pinocchio backslides into the misery he originally came from.

The second piece is a VR experience called I’m Terribly Sorry (2018). The spectator, wearing a VR set, interacts with the sole use of a smartphone camera with some tablet-headed characters who beg for money to spend on futile things. The setting is a grotesque gift-shop version of London, with gigantic Big Ben Souvenirs and Godzilla-sized waving Queen toys. Nightmarish, but in a good way!

Last, but not least, an exclusive gallery edition of Make Me Up (2018) was shown at Zabludowicz. The film was commissioned by the BBC, Creative Scotland and 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions and premiered at BFI London Film Festival this October. It’s the first television film for Maclean. Make Me Up is about surveillance, submission and control in the contemporary ultra technological society. It explores the duality of the potentiality of self representation in the world of socials and the pressures that the same medias exercise on women.

Siri, Alexa and other girls are inmates trapped in a brutalist Barbie dream-house. To control and guide them is an authoritarian diva, played by Maclean, who speaks with Kenneth Clark’s late 1960s BBC series Civilisation. “The way Kenneth Clark speaks is amazing, his voice is so specific and of its time. He seems to represent that very canonised idea of art history, in a person. An art history that doesn’t include women unless they’re in a sculpture or in a painting,” Maclean said to BBC.


Despite its innocent look, the place is a merciless women jungle: “It’s interesting how power feeds into everything,” the artist continues in the BBC interview. “And to not see feminism as something that’s polarised between genders, but to see it almost as a system of control that can be implemented by women as well as men. Also I like playing with gender, so it’s not seen as a binary thing.”

Surely, the exhibition has left a long lasting impression on the ones who visited it. If you missed it, you will be happy to know you can still grasp Maclean’s taste of tender terror in a new Arts Council Collection National Partnership exhibition curated by her.

From the 26th of January 2019, Too Cute! Sweet is about to get Sinister opens at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. A perfect excuse for an outdoor visit! The exhibition will showcase a multitude of media and expression of “sinister cuteness”, from 19th century paintings to multimedia installations. Artists include John Isaacs, Ana Maria Pacheco, Helen Chadwick, Paula Rego, Jordan Baseman and Glenn Brown.

Maclean said about Too Cute! Sweet is about to get Sinister: “I have been fascinated by cuteness for a long time and think that despite it being an area that so many artists investigate, it can often be overlooked as being too silly, shallow or feminine a subject for debate. I think cuteness is fundamental to our experience of consumer capitalism and it’s important that we take it seriously in order to understand what we use cute objects for and the effect they have on us. Something which has come to the fore in curating the show has been the number of artists that toe the line between cuteness and creepiness. There is something fascinatingly complex about this and for me it is the fundamental mystery of the cute object, how can things that look sweet be simultaneously sinister?”.

See you there, Cinegirls!

Photography by Rachel Maclean, Make Me Up, 2018 (still). Courtesy of the artist. © Rachel Maclean

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