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With the media continuing to distort representations of women, artists such as Rachel Maclean are taking a stand. Neil Cooper talks to her about the male gaze, NVA and making movies
Rachel Maclean is sat in Film City Glasgow to talk about Make Me Up, the artist’s feature-length subversion of primetime TV. Holding court to a parade of journalists in the boardroom of what used to be Govan Town Hall seems i tting somehow for a i lm about women and power.
Following Spite Your Face (Maclean’s dark look at the corrupting force of money which formed Scotland’s ofi cial contribution to the 2017 Venice Biennale), Make Me Up dissects popular media clichés of female beauty in a deceptively prettii ed world. Here the wide- eyed and tellingly named Siri is put through a blender of choreographed conformity alongside a troupe of similarly well-turned-out would-be mannequins forced to compete in an extreme take on trash-TV talent shows where survival of the i ttest is what counts.
All this is overseen by a candyl oss-coiffed ringmistress played by a typically barely recognisable Maclean. The words mouthed by the dominatrix-diva are taken from recordings of Kenneth Clark, the plummy-voiced art historian whose seminal 1969 BBC series, Civilisation, gave us a very male view of art. ‘I saw so much that was political in Kenneth Clark’s voice,’ says Maclean. ‘The power and authority of this upper-class male voice was almost imperial. Out of that came a particular point of view, which came at art history without any idea about female creativity at
all. When someone is revered in the way Clark was, it probably seemed inconceivable that there was any other way of teaching art. But within that, you can see the background of how female bodies are treated. Kenneth Clark can sound quite paternalistic, and when you put that together with something like America’s Next Top Model it becomes quite uncomfortable.’ Maclean normally reinvents herself as every character in her work, but this time out some 13 actors appear alongside her. Working with such a large company on Make Me Up’s relatively linear narrative appears to be a pointer for Maclean’s next move. ‘I’d really like to make a feature i lm for cinema,’ she says. ‘I’m really excited about creating a believable world using a straightforward narrative, and I’m getting a crash course in screenwriting just now.’
development. With NVA now co-producers of Make Me Up alongside Hopscotch Films, Maclean’s i lm will be their swansong. ‘I wanted Make Me Up to look stylistically
unreal,’ says Maclean. ‘St Peter’s was amazing to visit, and it was really nice working with NVA. It was really sad when they closed midway through the process, and it was a really difi cult moment in public art in the UK.’
Arriving in the midst of the #MeToo age, the contemporary voices of dissent in Make Me Up put into the mouths of Siri, Alexa and co come from the likes of Pussy Riot, Rose McGowan, Germaine Greer, Geri Halliwell and Viv Albertine. Such a disparate display chimes with a new generation of feminist thought and action which has been fearlessly evident of late. In this sense, for all its aesthetic and polemical complexities, Make Me Up is arguably a call to arms.
One of the more poignant aspects of Make ‘There’s far more politicisation and
Me Up is its use of the modernist architecture of St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. While Maclean’s i lm was shot using green screen at Film City, customised images of St Peter’s feature as a DayGlo dystopian backdrop. Up until recently, St Peter’s was earmarked for long-term renovation by NVA, Angus Farquhar’s environmental interventionists, whose rejection for regular funding by Creative Scotland caused the company’s demise, with the plug being pulled on the St Peter’s awareness of feminism in young women now than when I was growing up,’ notes Maclean. ‘I don’t want to force my ideas down people’s throats. I’d much rather the i lm opens up possible ways of thinking about some of the things it looks at. There are things in the i lm about weight and eating and body image, which traditionally young women have been made to feel like it’s all their fault, when actually it’s part of a much larger political discourse.’
40 THE LIST 1 Nov 2018–31 Jan 2019