'It's more baroque and a lot less candy-colour and children's TV' – Rachel Maclean prepares for the Venice Biennale
One of the rising stars of Scottish art talks about narratives that tap into people's fears
After the tumult and emotion of Brexit, would a UK citizen setting foot on European soil not immediately question what might be different between here and there? For Rachel Maclean, this year's Scottish representative at the Venice Biennale, her latest video piece is a chance to put that poser into physical form. Freshly nonplussed by the election of Donald Trump, she made a ten-day visit to Italy last December to gather inspiration and write, and was infused with a sense of wonder at the beauty of Venice itself and of concerned dismay at the rise of Brexit, Trump and populist nationalism.
'For me it was a scary time, but also a really interesting one where I could put some of these ideas down on paper,' she recalls. 'The film came about through Venice and that political moment, and they reminded me of the tale of Pinocchio and its relationship to Italy: I felt that story mixed well with the idea of post-truth politics.'
Presented in conjunction with Alchemy Film & Arts, Spite Your Face: A Dark Venetian Fairytale will be seen in Chiesa di Santa Caterina. This deconsecrated church helps pull into relief the contrast between a human search for divine answers just beyond their understanding and the slipping away of that concept to the extent that people may feel they have all the answers now. Maclean is unable to reveal too much about what the film involves, partly for the simple reason it's still in post-production; but the literature which precedes it boldly states that it will cover themes of 'identity, economy, society, connectivity and morality'.
'There are two worlds to the film,' she continues. 'It's going to be presented in portrait format, which has been interesting to work with. I was looking at a lot of painting when I was in Venice, and this religious idea of above and below, heaven and hell, the sense of the world having an overworld and an underworld. I like the idea that the portrait format is less about left to right than our interaction with this up and down, above and below world. Like some of my other films there's a feeling of a binary between two different worlds that seem to exist concurrently but only occasionally have a relationship or a connection with one another.'
This, it's fair to say, sounds like nothing if not an on-the-nose comment; that the left-and-right perspective is dissolving to be replaced by something much more elemental. Like each of her films, Maclean has rehearsed the action with 'real' actors and then performed all the parts in costume herself before a greenscreen backdrop. 'In part, the film is trying to absorb some of the atmosphere and feeling of Venice,' says the filmmaker who has twice been nominated for the Jarman Award, won the Margaret Tait Award in 2013, and will close a solo exhibition of her work at Tate Britain shortly before Spite Your Face opens. 'It's a lot different to my other work, a lot less candy-colour and children's TV. It's more baroque and hopefully feels more like the glittery luxury of Venice and the slightly grubby, dirty underbelly of the city too.'