Like her fellow contemporary video/film artists Ryan Trecartin and Ericka Beckman (both of whom have also exhibited at Zabludowicz), Maclean harnesses the aesthetics of online culture and reality television to investigate and deconstruct thorny present-day issues, the visual palette awash in gaudy, highly saturated colours, the material pushed into the realm of camp. The use of artifice is boldly engaged, a gesture that is ultimately both beneficial and detrimental to the effectiveness of the material-the performances aspire to baroque pantomime. The outrageousness may leaven the seriousness (making it more palatable to digest), but the shrill sentiment can grate over the course of each piece’s running time. In Spite Your Face, Maclean’s “Disney-on-crack” 2017 production, the fable of Pinocchio is darkly fed through the twisted portal of a post-truth, post-civilised universe in which corruption and lie-telling have become sanctified states, a lost world where the gasping grab for wealth and adoration are the only holy pilgrimage. The main character’s proboscis, that most vital of Pinocchio’s appendages, is the phallic locus of anxiety, power and violence. As the brand face for the new perfume of Untruth, he is surrounded by a grotesque menagerie of callous male monstrosities, lascivious in their corporate machinations and manipulations. The screen is set in portrait format, a response to the dimensions of the work’s original environment (the deconsecrated Chiesa Di Santa Caterina in Venice, where Maclean represented Scotland at the Biennale in 2017), which compatibly fits within this venue’s main hall (a former Methodist Chapel). In a continuous 37-minute loop, the characters exist perpetually in a cycle of florid ambition, deception and vice, fixed in patterns of lewd behaviour and rigid fate. Make Me Up is a viciously cheeky satire of authoritarian patriarchy and its comeuppance, in which a bevy of doll-like women lorded over by a controlling male figure who speaks in the stentorian tones of Kenneth Clarke (with actual dialogue from the 1969 tv series Civilisation, which effortlessly,eerily synchronises with the themes being explored, without any alterations) are tasked with a series of increasingly humiliating, degrading acts dictated by a sexist, narrow-minded mentality. Newly annointed dollies Siri and Alexa (!) lead a steady revolt against the constraints and smug manoeuvres of the male impresario (seeking the “glitch”which will release them) until a sudden tempest of self-awareness infects the group, a torrent of found audio recordings of a chorus of female celebrities and political leaders and academics recounting their theories of feminist agency placed in the characters’ mouths, a lipsynch fantasia.The women crescendo to a final group dance, no longer under the influence of a repressive male force, concluding with an exciting blast of aggro electro beats and assertive, independent movement. The film’s message is a bit dampened by the 45-minute length; it could have possibly had a greater resonance at half its running time. Most powerful is Maclean’s first VR piece, I’m Terribly Sorry, that most reserved of British phrases, a six-minute immersion in a woozy acid-jazz British landscape of undulating Big Ben teapots and keychains, red buses and solar-powered figurines of the Queen. Each participant is asked to take pictures of various mobile phone-faced characters (stand-ins for privileged urban dwellers) who approach you in the street, soliciting for funds, their explanations convoluted and subtly, menacingly demanding.
After becoming suddenly implicated in a shocking incident, a phalanx of shadowy figures descend upon you, looming over your perspective, vulnerably crowding you in, to visit threat upon you. The comfort of distance has been wholly erased, the viewer plummeting straight into the heart of violent action and victim hood.
Whereas the two films slightly overstay their welcome, leeching power in the process, this short, sharp meditation upon Brexit-era U.K. is haunted by cultural tensions, migrant crises, an elevation of apprehension and mistrust, inescapably engulfing and entangling the viewer.
The museum’s rooms are dressed with vulgar plush carpets, lurid satin curtains, and beribboned pink-cushioned chairs, reflections of the wanton narratives spilling out onscreen. No doubt there is an abundance of slick energy and striking extravagance in these works, but exhaustion and impatience wore me out long before the films’conclusions, both only fitfully engaging. This exhibition closed on 16 December