Critics’ Picks

Rachel Maclean, Please Sir..., 2014, two-channel HD video, 25 minutes.


Rachel Maclean

Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA)
350 Sauchiehall Street
May 31 - July 13

Among the coterie of contemporary artists embracing theatrical installation and narrative—Mary Reid Kelley, Allison Schulnik—Scottish artist Rachel Maclean is emerging as a politicized addition. The upcoming referendum this year on Scotland’s independence sets the tone for this exhibition where politics, celebrity, and the prospect of national unity in the context of the British class system are rendered as allegorical spectacle in luridly colorful CGI. Utilizing green-screen techniques common to film and television, Maclean constructs long-form videos with painstakingly detailed costumes and transformative makeup to invoke a cast of archetypal characters such as Oliver Twist, whose staying power in the popular imagination is nurtured by England’s diffuse pop-cultural influence.

Most beguiling here is a two-channel video, Please Sir. . ., 2014, a tour de force borrowing The Prince and the Pauper’s storyline (1881) wholesale and proceeding in entirely appropriated dialogue cobbled from sources well known in British popular culture. When the Pauper, whose poverty is hammed up by Maclean garbed in artfully ripped Adidas workout gear and greenish teeth, appears before a line of courtiers segregated by a screen at the opposite end of the gallery, his pose and speech are unmistakably ripped from Spud’s interview in Trainspotting (1996). The yawning middle space separating the two would seem to speak to a unbridgeable class divide, but there’s a scene where the Prince proffers the Pauper a goblet-like pipe, curiously assuring him in a velvet-smooth voice that it’s “smack,” then cutting to each in a throbbing club populated by the gyrating peers of their respective class tiers. There’s no difference in the staging of the two; only the cosmetic and prosthetic getups of the revelers differentiate them. Rather, what is performed is a grossly ironic unity engendered under the nagging, faded sign of empire.