Creating an alternative reality, part fantasy, part commercial playground, Glasgow based artist Rachel Maclean produces work dealing with the notions of culture, gender and celebrity. Working largely in digital composite video, the Edinburgh College of Art graduate’s short films feature an array of grotesque, highly made-up and ridiculously camp characters which truly have to be seen to be believed. Currently exhibiting in The Market Gallery, Glasgow, Rachel gives us an insight into her weird and wonderful world…
Tell us about ‘Going Bananas!’:
‘Going Bananas!’ is an exhibition of the work I made during my residency at ‘The Market Gallery’, Glasgow this January. Thematically the work explores what I believe to be the intriguing and complex identity of the banana, and physically comprises of a 7-minute digitally composited video projection and a painting to the same scale as the window, which faces onto the street. The figures in this painting have holes cut where their heads would be, allowing visitors to place their faces through, creating the illusion that they occupy the same pictorial space, like the traditional seaside amusement.
Why are you so fascinated by bananas?
The banana is attractive because it seems to exist at the intersection of banality and fantasy. It reclines on supermarket shelves and in household fruit bowls with a gesture of cheap availability. However, unpeel it’s familiar clothing and it reveals a repressed character. The banana signifies a hunger for something beyond disenchanted civility, exposing a lust for the exotic, the ‘Other’, the ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’, promising perpetual feasting and erotic fulfilment. However we slip up on it’s skin and burst out laughing. It’s fantasy becomes mockery, a dancing monkey, a comic disappointment, unfamiliar with the polite world and representative of a dangerously under evolved, primitive existence, ungoverned by the regulations of the civilised world.
What attracted you to start working with film?
Since I was wee I have been messing around with the family camcorder, and have boxes of tapes that document everything from the eventful to the entirely banal. In retrospect I can see that I was particularly attracted to the illusionary possibilities of stop animation, and injecting a sense of the paranormal into the everyday. Additionally, by allowing me to capture pretend play and masquerade on film, it seemed the camcorder helped to visualize a fantasy space or alternative world that is otherwise internalized or simply in the minds eye. To an extent I have never lost this sense of excitement and playfulness in relation to video, and strangely my work still retains a lot of the same interests and subject matter that it did when I was 11 or 12.
Are the characters in your films based on anyone?
I intend for all of my characters to be a complex, almost schizophrenic mixture of references to different people. For example, the central female figure in my video ‘Tae Think Again’ is at once Mary Queen of Scots and Carrie from ‘Sex and the City’, slipping between a number of other references at the same time. I am attracted to the notion of celebrity, and inspired by the Britney Spears head shaving because it seems to represent a moment at which unified, constructed identity throws it’s self up and tips into it’s opposite. The instant of self-consumption, when the signature white smile of the teen pop sensation begins to hungrily gnaw at it’s own image.
What inspires you?
My work is inspired by a number of things at one, and often hinges on a bizarre combination of two apparently conflicting influences, for example Susan Boyle and Heavy Metal in my video ‘I Dreamed A Dream.’ Where I live at the time I make work is also very influential, as I believe different cultures have different fantasies related to place. For example, I stayed in America for 6 months and became much more concerned by an idealised notion of Scotland, as a land of castles, lochs, monsters and kilts. Whereas I found growing up in Scotland, you are very divorced from this fantasy, and instead the imagination is much more directed to the US, and the glamour and intrigue it conveys to the outsider.
What are you currently working on and where can we see you next?
I am currently working on a show organised as part of the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop’s ‘Dialogues’ programme, where I am collaborating with Manchester based sculptor Karen Lyons on a show called ‘Hatchings’. Additionally, I am showing work in the Royal Scottish Academy ‘New Contemporaries’ show, opening on the 3rd of April and hopefully will be working on a music video or two as well.
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