Rachel Maclean’s work has always taken an unorthodox approach to the conventions of contemporary art. Fusing performance, story-telling, satire, video and digital manipulation, Maclean creates complex narratives which reflect modern life and politics. Commissioned for the Venice Biennale 2017, Maclean’s most recent work, Spite Your Face, draws on the classic fairy-tale of Pinocchio. Originally displayed in the Chiesa di Santa Caterina Church in Venice, social media stories and posts surrounding the work had been creating quite a stir online. Now it can be seen in its reconceptualised space of the Georgian Gallery in the Talbot Rice Gallery as an immersive screen that envelops visitors. Projected and installed in portrait as opposed to landscape form, the screen holds an instantaneous dominating presence.
The tale of Pinocchio has been adapted in various manners and styles over the years, including in the guise of the 1940 Disney film, which saw Pinocchio become a cultural icon and beloved children’s story. However, the original tale by Italian author Carlo Collodi was intended not as an endearing representation of the wooden puppet as seen in the Disney portrayal. Instead, the tale was intended to give a far darker depiction, to act as a warning and a tragedy, eventually resulting in the hanging of Pinocchio. Rachel Maclean’s video installation aligns far more strongly to this original and more sinister version of the tale. Within the thirty-seven minute film, Maclean explores themes of post-truth politics. Produced and written amidst the wake of Brexit negotiations and the appointment of the Trump administration, Maclean employs the tale of Pinocchio to illustrate the flaws of contemporary capitalist society. A dizzying exploration of exploitation, power structures, patriarchy, consumerism and commercialism, Spite Your Face is a wealth of social critiques.
It is an unconventional piece of video art, in the sense that unlike a lot of contemporary video works, Spite Your Face adopts a distinct narrative which plays on loop. Regardless of the moment in which the visitor chooses to enter the gallery space, the film still holds its poignancy and morals throughout. The film therefore demands the viewer’s attention and visitors sit both mesmerised and horrified as the story of Pinocchio unfolds. Maclean’s adaption takes place across two worlds; one represents a glittering, greedy and celebrity-obsessed culture, the other sees a darker and more destitute sense of hopelessness and poverty. As the story unfolds, Pinocchio is seen to rise from the depths and abyss of poverty, to instead be greeted by wealth and fame. However, although the initial allure appeals, the cracks of capitalist greed slowly unfold to reveal Maclean’s fierce social critique.