Work / Film

Rachel Maclean’s Make Me Up is a visually seductive film about female identity

Multimedia artist Rachel Maclean is known for her visually powerful and surreal film work. Her most recent work, Make Me Up premieres on 12 October at BFI London Film Festival where the major new commission for the BBC will showcase the artist’s alternative style, known for its found voiceover work and over-the-top impactful visuals. Speaking to It’s Nice That, Rachel explains how “Make Me Up is an exploration of both the achievements and complications of contemporary feminism. It sets out a discussion of how women’s bodies, voices and minds contend with a world that often prefers you to be slim, silent and subservient”.

The feature length film is Rachel’s longest yet, utilising her multi-disciplinary skills as an artist to write, direct and produce the new film. “Being an artist involves knowing every process that makes the work come to life”, explains Rachel. Her films convey a complete sense of artistic direction that considers every minutiae to communicate Rachel’s hallucinatory world. Make Me Up takes place in a seductive and dangerous place where surveillance, violence and submission are a normalised part of daily life. The film explores how the media, on one hand, can be a great way to express and explore identity. On the other hand, social media can be seen as a gilded prison that encourages women to conform to strict beauty ideals.

Despite the cutesy, glitter-coated setting, the film is far from innocent. The kawaii-inspired surroundings are nuanced by Rachel’s use of found audio seen through the authoritarian diva character who speaks entirely with the voice of Kenneth Clark from the 1960s BBC series Civilisation. The incongruent clash of Kenneth Clark’s voice combined with the sugary environment creates a feeling of a surreal dystopia. “Having a voice is a form of power and I’m interested in cutting and pasting them together to form different narratives”, explains Rachel. The intense visual stimulation combined with the found audio create rich layers of alternative communication that challenge the idea of what it means to be female.

The artist chose Kenneth Clark’s voice because of its evident associations with class and patriarchy. Rachel’s interests in found audio originate from ideas surrounding what senses form our identity, her use of different voices form a collage that changes the audience’s perception of the film’s tone. This is seen in Kenneth Clark’s pedantic and over-pronounced accent coming through the body of a woman stirring up themes of power and control. Make Me Up’s vivid compositions are informed by Rachel’s interest in “making a feminist film which looks at the female representation in art history”. The predominantly pink aesthetic is a comment on the “canonised view of art history which is very masculine”, subverting the male gaze into a doll-house aesthetic.

The process of creating Make Me Up allowed Rachel to “reinvestigate my relationship to Kenneth Clark’s reading of art history that I grew up with. In particular, how strikingly present women are in images and sculptures throughout art history, yet how absent they are as voices or ages in art production”.

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Rachel Maclean: Make Me Up, 2018

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Rachel Maclean: Make Me Up, 2018

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Rachel Maclean: Make Me Up, 2018

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Rachel Maclean: Make Me Up, 2018

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Rachel Maclean: Make Me Up, 2018

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Rachel Maclean: Make Me Up, 2018

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Rachel Maclean: Make Me Up, 2018

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Rachel Maclean: Make Me Up, 2018

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Rachel Maclean: Make Me Up, 2018