Rachel Boyd interviews glasgow based artist Rachel MacLean, who graduated from Edinburgh College of Art. Rachel recently exhibited her video installation 'Please sir', as part of Generation Scotland.
Rachel MacLean is nothing like her characters. It’s almost a struggle to recognize the brash expressions of a feline, a rabbit, a queen, a germ, a prince and a pauper the context of her amicable modesty - framed only by a pair of rounded spectacles, hinting at an interior pensiveness and a girlish charm. She is her only actress, her only director; as a film-maker, all parts are played, constructed and scripted solely by her.
In creating characters, colour and costume which are exuberant and all-exhausting, the viewer is propelled into a environment saturated by pop culture and folk tales, common myth and falsified histories. Despite originally studied Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh College of Art, Rachel MacLean is now known for the idiosyncratic faces which form her cinematic utopias. In fact, MacLean’s training in the Fine Arts has since formed the backbone of her later works, where painting and film-making “are actually quite similar”:
“A lot of the work I was creating as a student was in collage - collaging papers, doing sculptures with bits of painted fabric. Using the green screen excited me because it was essentially like creating a collage with film – collaging bits of scenarios together, to create one big environment. Doing film work let me explore costume, which I was always interested in but could never work out how to incorporate into my work. Making that transition from painting to film also let me extend a narrative beyond a painting or single piece.”
Her films– composed of audio sourced from television and the internet - often dominate our thinking; where fragments of plotlines abound with surrealism zig-zag between patriotism and parody. It seems that the common thread between the Technicolor dreamboat that is ‘Over the Rainbow’ and the red-drenched skylines of ‘A Whole New World’ is idealism; the fantastical (and perhaps naive) notions of society that these second-hand sources present us with:
“In using media from television, politics, and popular film, I want my work to be familiar to people, for them to recognise the audio and the dialogue of the characters; to avoid anything cult or that plays to any particular clichés. I think that’s what’s interesting about working in film - your influences can come from anywhere!
That darker side to the something as innocent as a fairy tale is something I’m also interested in. Behind these stories are subtle rules on how to behave - how to sit, how girls should behave - so what I find quite interesting is how these narratives can sometimes be quite manipulative, quite dark. For my work at CCA, Please Sir, I was really interested in the narrative of the Prince and the Pauper, and all the different interpretations of that story across different cultures and countries, in fairy tales – I even think Barbie has a version, like the Olsen twins have one. However, the rags-to-riches part is universal, and in terms of characters, I liked the idea of two identities meeting and swapping lives. I liked the idea of dealing with these two characters simultaneously, as I play all of the characters and I like experiencing that chop and change of identity.”
The majority of MacLean’s work is simultaneously affected by the idea of ‘belonging’ – where a variety of countries may attach their ethos of living to the notion of a shared past (as Scotland does the Uk, as explored in The Lion and The Unicorn and again, in A Whole New World), modern life is indebted to similar stereotypes; something which her own characters develop from:
"The characters and who I am as a person are completely separate. For some artists, their work is like an extension of themselves, or a self-portrait – but for me, it’s all about putting an idea across; the links or separate identities within the one narrative. I’ve never really been interested in coming back to any of my characters, but there are some qualities of characters that I’m really interested in – for example, the women featured toward the end of that film [Please Sir] with big hooked noses and dodgy teeth. I like the idea of these faces being like caricatures; being extremely grotesque but also humorous to look at."
"To start off a film, I create colour swatches. Baby blues, baby pinks...I’m interested in how pastel colours define femininity, and how darker, duller colours – like greys, browns, blacks – are portrayed as masculine. The only rule is that I can’t have anything green – because of the green screen. In one of my films, Over the Rainbow, I was really interested in multicolour, like the Technicolor you see in Children’s programmes, and how people perceive the films differently because of the colours I use: I love how people’s automatic reaction to anything bright or Technicolor is to assume that it’s silly, or for children, and I wanted my narrative in that film to play with that perception.”
It is obvious that one of the main attractions to MacLean’s work is its silliness. Her films, known for their nonsensical wit, quite literally play to their audiences; defined not only by mutual trends of fashion, television and celebrity - but governed by a desire to play; to gauge curiosity, but also laughter.
Visit Rachel's website for more wacky wonders: www.rachelmaclean.com
Article by Rachel Boyd