Rachel Maclean’s films have wowed audiences across the UK, but can her most recent show maintain the same success?

Rachel Maclean’s sickly sweet, candy-coated, glitteringly grotesque aesthetic has engulfed the Zabludowicz Collection. Acidic colours, elaborate costumes and shiny surfaces overwhelm the large screens and spill out in to the gallery with brightly coloured carpets, silky satin upholstering and perfect bows taking over the walls and floors. Immediately I was immersed. Maclean’s over saturated, dark and disturbing worlds are made using green-screen video, animation, and visual effects. Spite Your Face, 2017, the first film in the exhibition, was originally made to represent Scotland in the 57th Venice Biennale and references the original, sinister version of the Italian folktale Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.

Italian influences can be felt in the architecture and costumes of this carefully realised dreamworld in which we follow the protagonist Pic, on his cyclical rise from rags to riches and with it the growth of his nose as he descends into untruth, arrogance, greed and sexual violence. Made in 2017, this film sits within the context of significant political change: the rise in divisive campaigns that led the UK to Brexit and the US to Trump. This satirical, surreal and absurd exploration of exploitation, power structures, consumerism and patriarchy felt eerily familiar. Maclean’s nightmarish creation scarily resembles the world we live in today.

Feeling disoriented and stunned I moved to the next room to experience Maclean’s first virtual reality work, I’m Terribly Sorry (2018). I found myself standing on a rainy street in a dystopian British urban landscape surrounded by giant London tourist merchandise. Big Ben key-rings and red London bus teapots towered over me as I was asked for money by posh city dwellers with I-phones for heads, a man in a suit lectured me on flat whites and a woman in sports kit manically spoke about her Virgin Active membership, they then began to multiply, turning in to a crowd. The experience was intimidating and claustrophobic, the situation was chaotic, filled with mistrust and misunderstanding. I hope it wasn’t an accurate prediction of post -Brexit Britain, for this was a London gone very wrong.

The last work, Make Me Up (2018), is Maclean’s most ambitious work to date and the first time she has worked with a cast of actors rather than playing every part herself. In this brilliantly lustrous, sickly, pink feminist sci-fi we follow Siri as she wakes up in a beauty pageant finishing school that is headed by a RuPaul inspired character with Kenneth Clark’s voice. Maclean hilariously uses the audio from his classic 1969 television series Civilisation. Siri soon teams up with her friend, Alexa, to distract the ruthless surveillance and reveal the dark and evil truths that underpin their manicured institution.

For me, Make Me Up was the most powerful piece. It vigorously, humorously, and beautifully reflects on deep-rooted beauty standards and how they can be enhanced by social media domination, it considers the conflicting pressures faced by women today and the multiple voices within feminism’s response to patriarchal abuses of power. Rachel Maclean’s plastic, apocalyptic, manufactured worlds are filled with imagination and humour but at the same time present us with difficult truths and the potential horror of them. Her ambition and her achievements are inspiring. I will definitely be going back.

Rachel Maclean will be at The Zabludowicz Collection until the 16th of December. 

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