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  • Writer's pictureKATY HOWE

Rachel Maclean: A Voice Worth Hearing

Updated: Feb 3, 2019

Multimedia artist Rachael Maclean is a supremely talented young artist who is not afraid of using razor sharp satire and wit to address current political issues. Using green screen and computer animation she creates hyperreal worlds that are almost always inhabited by fantastical gaudy characters that she plays herself. She gives us a critique of contemporary society reflecting back its desires, hopes, fears and insecurities, plus many of the other workings that underpin it. In 2017 she represented Scotland at the Venice Biennale with “Spite Your Face”, her response to the political changes being wrought by the Trump election campaign and the 2016 Brexit vote. It was then shown at Zabludowicz Collection, Autumn 2018 running alongside “Make Me Up” plus a newly Zabludowicz commissioned, virtual reality piece, “I’m Terribly Sorry”. These three works are utterly fantastic with the installation of them is being a vital element. The rooms are swathed in garish theatrical curtains, adding to the notion of the contrived image and pulling on strands of history and popular culture.

Currently her digital video “The Lion and The Unicorn” plus some digital prints are being shown at the National Gallery concurrently with “The Monarch of the Glen” exhibition of Landseer’s works (on loan from National Galleries Scotland). Seen in this context the only way to read the latter is as the romanticised Victorian view of Scotland that it represents, and as yet another appropriation of Scotland by the English.

If you know your Scottish history, you will know that Traquair House in the Scottish Borders, is not only the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, it has also belonged to the Stuarts since 1491. During the 1500 - 1600’s those powerful Stuart Lairds of Traquair wealded much political power and were associated with Mary Queen of Scots, who visited the house in 1566. In 1739 the famous Bear Gates were built at the top of the drive. Those same gates were closed following the first visit of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, never to be opened again, until a time when the Stuart monarchy would be restored. Hence their great significance and meaning in Scotland’s history.

Cue the setting for, “The Lion and The Unicorn”, Maclean’s sharply satirical digital video installation astutely dissecting Scottish/English relations, pulling into sharp focus issues that have been simmering under the surface for, quite literally, centuries. The film, made at the time of the Scottish Referendum for Independence in 2012, is a sharp political polemic that illustrates the problematic situation and its complex ambiguities. It engages with themes of national identity by using a dark sense of satirical comedy and is heavily laden with historical references. Beginning with an introduction from “The Queen”, who is an interesting composite of Queen Elizabeth 1st, Mary Queen of Scots, a touch of Queen Victoria and more than just a hint of fairytale fantasy, we are introduced to Maclean’s Trademark use of found audio in the form of this Queen giving us, our Queen’s first ever televised address from 1957. Maclean is a master of lip-sync and she plays the orange haired Queen to perfection. As usual she plays all the characters, perfectly lip-syncing to the found audio clips that they spout, and as the film progresses we see a ridiculous squabbling encounter between a pompous English aristocratic Lion, dressed in a red coat with a frothy pink mane, and a greedy Scottish sparkly faced Unicorn, wearing blue and tartan. The dialogue is made up of various audio clips of Jeremy Paxman, Alex Salmond and David Cameron. The characters discus what could happen, after Scottish Independence in terms of the countries’ gold reserves, wealth, capital and debt, while cutting up a sickly sweet Union Flag cake and swigging a thick dark, viscous liquid, clearly alluding to Scotland’s North Sea Oil. It is the Lion who swigs the viscous liquid and the Unicorn who greedily scoffs the cake while the Lion just picks at it.

As in all of Maclean’s works she cleverly constructs a fantasy world through her use of garish colours, prosthetics, masks and make-up, that is equally ridiculous as it is plausible. She blatantly draws our attention to the construction of the image, both historically and in contemporary culture having an innate ability to identify and tease out the complex and myriad threads that are interwoven to form both our individual, and in this case our collective national identities. She is an artist not to be missed. Her voice is well worth hearing!

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