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Rachel Maclean – Sugar-Sickly Scottish Video Art at HOME, Manchester

September 30, 2016

Artsvideo | by Harry Seymour


HOME Manchester is adding another explosion of a show to its roster, this time in the form of Scotland’s Rachel Maclean. The gallery, which opened in 2015, has already been as a beacon for boundary pushing – defiantly displaying some of the most provocative art the UK is currently producing. Maclean, who has been selected to represent Scotland at the 2017 Venice Biennial, is bringing an entirely new body of work to the city, with little doubt to excite the eyes. Known for her acid trip films, which parody a glittery dystopian 21st century existence, they float somewhere amidst internet meme, hip hop princess, kid’s cartoon and television advert. Maclean’s sugar-sickly narrative visions simultaneously delight and repulse. Art Historian Harry Seymour sat down with the artist to discuss her upcoming show at HOME.

Harry Seymour: To start at the beginning, what’s your earliest memory of art?

Rachel Maclean: This may sound kind of pretentious, but my dad had a book of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, which I think came from a pound shop. But I remember loving that because it has the same kind of quality as a kid’s book in the details. Its all very grotesque.

HS: Yes his stuff is completely bizarre and out of this world.

RM: Yes it is – so that is my earliest memory of art and I still love it, it is an amazing painting.

HS: Have you seen it in person in the Prado in Madrid?

RM: Yes I saw it – although in some ways I think it works better as a publication where you can see all the detail.

Rachel Maclean, We Want Data!, Dye Sublimation Fabric Print Series, 2.1 x 3 m. Commissioned by Artpace and HOME.
Rachel Maclean, We Want Data!, Dye Sublimation Fabric Print Series, 2.1 x 3 m. Commissioned by Artpace and HOME.

HS: How did the project with HOME Manchester come about?

RM: I showed with them in New Contemporaries in 2009, when I first graduated, and when HOME was Corner House. I got to know a few people there at that point and did various shows in Manchester following that. So its partly through that, and partly through the Jarman Film Awards in 2014. I got to know Sarah Perks the curator at HOME through that.

HS: I think HOME is great, because they, and lots of other galleries outside of London don’t have the fear of what they show. They don’t suffer from the London syndrome of fear of the critics and they really just go for it. They’re brave and forward thinking in what they show in a way I cant imagine happening in stiff London.

RM: Yes they’re incredibly fun and have an attractive aesthetic. It’s a good thing.

 Rachel Maclean, We Want Data!, Dye Sublimation Fabric Print Series, 2.1 x 3 m. Commissioned by Artpace and HOME

Rachel Maclean, We Want Data!, Dye Sublimation Fabric Print Series, 2.1 x 3 m. Commissioned by Artpace and HOME

HS: Can you guide me through the visitor experience of someone coming to see your show – for someone having seen your work online at home, it will be a very different sensory experience to visiting the gallery to see it no?

RM: The HOME show will be some things I am trying out for the first time, a mixture of prints that are large-scale fabric prints that are hung like tapestries, and there will be sculptures which I am working on at the moment, which are large scale interpretations of the film I am making for the show. The film is called “Its What’s Inside That Counts” which is a large three screen projection, being installed in the gallery. My intention with it is that the walls will be painted a variety of pastel colours, so it will be nice and bright, slightly like a little girl’s bedroom!

HS: Yes I wanted to ask about how you like to show your work – in a plain black room, or in an immersive setting like a theatrical experience?

RM: Yes I have shown things before where there are coloured carpets and walls – lots of pink and baby blue!

HS: And what would you like people to take away from visiting the HOME show, or in fact any of your work?

RM: I like the idea that the work is on some level seductive and draws you in, but I also like the idea that at the same time its unsettling and takes on these very recognisable ideas from popular culture or the media, but deals with them in a way that is unsettling. So I would like people to leave with hopefully having enjoyed it, but also feeling unsettled.

HS: Which I think it does very successfully – having watched the film “Germs” it really made me rethink about how cleaning products are pushed on us. There is a certain subgenre that I never realised existed for cleaning product adverts with its own look and language, and also they feel they always have to anthropomorphise the germs, giving them googly eyes and waving arms! Which is all rather strange but accepted. The way your work satirises this made me really reflect on it.

RM: Yes there is this whole micro world that goes on under the skin – they want you think there is an invisible presence that needs to be zapped away! They have to be costumed monsters otherwise we wouldn’t understand

HS: Do you make all the costumes for your films yourself?

RM: On some of my older films I made all the costumes myself, but I have recently been working with a costume designer and producer called Lizzy Payne. I design them all and still do a lot of the making. They’re never really made from scratch and aren’t necessarily made from fabric, or sewn together from patterns – its much more buying things and cobbling them together. I like the idea they’re a composite of existing mass-produced products.

HS: Yes they’re amazing and clearly take lots of work.

RM: yes they’re good fun to make and I love going in to all the details on them.

HS: And all the CGI, who does that?

RM: That’s all done in my studio, myself and my brother work closely doing bits and pieces. Lots of green screen and Photoshop. I really enjoy that part of the process because its almost like making a painting – it’s the part where you can really fix down how you want things to look.

HS: So what is your process from the concept of a piece? Do you have an idea then storyboard it to begin with?

RM: I normally have an idea then write a script then add characters and start designing costumes, and sometimes a little bit of storyboarding yes. It’s a strange process in that I write the script and work with actors to record it, but then its only me that plays all the characters on camera, so it is almost as if the whole script is edited and recorded before the shoot. Then we film it all miming and then filming that because its all done on green screen we spring it in to post production and add in the backgrounds. SO there are lots of stages!

HS: Yes! Is this the style you have always worked in?

RM: It is quite similar to some of the stuff I did for my undergraduate degree show, working with basic green screen and costume. I was lucky because I had opportunities to work with film crews after I left college, and work on collaborative projects, not just me in my bedroom filming myself doing stuff anymore!

HS: You studied in Edinburgh – why did you choose there? I think on the outset your work seems like a product of the more conceptual, and rival, Glasgow College of Art.

RM: I think at the age I was I just decided I wanted to go there. I love living there. The Edinburgh Fringe brings so much comedy and theatre and performance to the city, and I think that was an influence. It’s a unique and beautiful gothic city, full of fantasy.

portrait-rachel-maclean-by-craig-gibson

HS: But you live in Glasgow now? They both have such vibrant but very different arts scenes.

RM: Yes I am on the fence of the debate now. They do have a lot more collaborative scenes than people realise – lots of people from either know each other and work with each other, but still maintain their different identities.

HS: Yes they do. And moving further afield, what do you have in store for the Venice Biennial in 2014?

RM: I can’t say too much at the moment, but I am making a new film related to Venice but also Brexit and the whole idea of representing a country within Europe. But I’m still figuring lots of it out…

Wot u 🙂 about? is Rachel Maclean’s first major solo exhibition of new work at HOME, Manchester, running from Sat 29 Oct 2016 to Sun 8 Jan 2017. Curated by Bren O’Callaghan and Sarah Perks. www.homemcr.org #WotUSmilingAbout

It’s What’s Inside That Counts is in partnership with University of Salford Art Collection, Artpace, Zabludowicz Collection, Tate, Frieze Film and Channel 4 Random Acts.”