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by Emily Butler _Curator of Whitechapel Gallery


Rachel Maclean _Germs_Digital Video_03:00_2013

He’s looking

I don’t know what he’s looking for

Maybe it’s a touch,

A laugh

A smell

Why tell him it’s perfume when he thinks it’s you?

Masque. The new fragrance.


These opening lines from Rachel Maclean’s short film Germs (2013) sound as though they are drawn from an alluring perfume ad. Using carefully studied language and aesthetics drawn from television advertising this work offers a glimpse into the pastel-toned and the soft-focus world of a glamorous blonde female protagonist. However, very quickly, it jumps into becoming an advert for a face-masque, a yogurt and finally a toilet cleaner. The transitions become increasingly ominous, and over the course of only three minutes you come to realise this is a clever masquerade.


Are you feeling ok?


MacLean’s videos are a humorous take on historical and contemporary culture, from imagined conversations with the Queen of England to Internet celebrities; they are hyperreal fantasies that emerge as short bursts of colour-saturated narratives, which in the artist’s words ‘… slip inside and outside of history’. Whilst Germs jolts from one subject to the next, a common trope is used by the artist, the mask. A mask to conceal odours and to offer an alternative façade to the advert’s protagonist; the purifying face-mask; the yogi-pot mask to line your gut with beneficial bacteria; and the toilet cleaner, ‘Mr Mask’, used to exterminate persistent bathroom bacteria. Maclean has analysed advertising tactics. Her ‘products’ are designed to address our daily concerns: odours, dirt, bacteria, and germs. They are aimed to improve our well-being and appearance, to fragrance, purify, nourish and cleanse. The main character can be seen as a stand-in for the targeted customer or the artwork viewer, as she become increasingly paranoid about the presence of germs within our personal and domestic environments.


…The multi-germ destroyer is the only household cleaner for the job


Rachel Maclean_Germs_Digital Video_03:00_2013


The film was initially commissioned by the British television Channel 4, as part of their ‘Random Acts’ commissions to artists. These are shown between programmes during advertising sequences. Maclean chose to play on advertising language and vocabulary to respond to this context. What makes the work so powerful is how the artist builds the encounter between what seems ‘real’ - the incredibly convincing advertising scenes, the use of pseudo-scientific language – and making us become aware that the whole work is a double fabricated scenario, manufactured entirely by the artist through green-screen technology. The work also mimics the experience of channel-hopping, that is encountering one form of commercial television footage after the next.


And germs aren’t all that it deals with…


In 2016, the Whitechapel Gallery selected the work to be part of the Artists’ Film International programme, a collaborative project featuring film, video and animation from around the world. The annual theme that year was ‘technologies’. Indeed, Maclean’s works are entirely fabricated using green-screen technology, which allows the artist to superimpose figures against digitally enhanced backdrops. Thanks to these tools, MacLean takes on all the roles or models in her films and photographs. She invents a variety of characters that mime to appropriated audio gleaned from the Internet or slick compositions. Indeed recently she has collaborated with professional musical composers and actors to offer saccharine songs and convincing voice-overs demonstrating a mastery of different inflections, accents and vocabularies. Maclean also uses prosthetics, elaborate costumes and exaggerated make-up, to become also unrecognizable, becoming extraordinary imaginary personas heavily influenced by digital and televisual characters.


Thanks to the miracle masks unique masquien-dermetas technology it penetrates the surface of the skin...


Maclean’s work offers clever satires on contemporary life. Below the surface of perfection, lie darker and sinister issues. Her work operates incisively at the juncture between the two. Her films also blur roles around gender and identity – from cartoonish archetypes, eerie phantasms and reverberating otherworldly beings. Her characters jump from docile shoppers to hungry users that need to be fed comfort and entertainment to maintain a semblance of happiness. This exploration of the two sides of consumption also shrewdly explores the idea of split personalities and alter egos resulting from the effects of digital technology. Maclean’s pushes this divide to a sticky conclusion in Germs, as the blonde bewigged character is eventually overcome by her paranoia and ends up being exterminated by her nemesis in a pool of bright stage blood.


Have you been wasting your time with ordinary household cleaners?

[Full version]






Rachel MacLean

Germs (2013)

Digital video

3 minutes

Commission by Bold Yin for Channel 4 Random Acts

Courtesy the artist

Selected by Whitechapel Gallery for Artists’ Film International, 2016


For AFI 2016, the Whitechapel Gallery selects the work of Scottish artist Rachel Maclean whose pastel-coloured dystopias explore parallel worlds. Germs (2013), a satirical video using green-screen technology, follows a glamorous female protagonist through a series of advertising tropes. Moving from a perfume to a bathroom cleaner commercial, she converses with a persuasive masked woman and becomes increasingly paranoid about the omnipresence of microscopic germs in a hyper clean world created by digital technology. Maclean plays every character in the piece.



Rachel Maclean 


Rachel Maclean is a Glasgow-based artist (b.1987, Edinburgh, Scotland). Maclean graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2009 and has exhibited across the UK and internationally. Working predominantly with the moving image, she went on to win the Margaret Tait Award in 2013, was twice shortlisted for the Jarman Award, and achieved widespread critical acclaim for Feed Me (2015) in the British Art Show 8. Recent exhibitions include: Wot u :-) about? (2016), HOME, Manchester and Tate Britain, London; We Want Data (2016), Artpace San Antonio, Texas; Feed Me (2015), British Art Show 8; Ok, You’ve Had Your Fun, Casino Luxembourg (2015); Please, Sir…, Rowing, London (2014); The Weepers, Comar, Mull (2014); Happy & Glorious, CCA, Glasgow (2014), part of Generation, 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland. HEART SCOTLAND, The Edinburgh Printmakers,  (2014); Invites, Zabludowicz Collection, London, (2014); Quick Child, Run!, Trade Gallery, Nottingham, (2014); Over The Rainbow, Collective Gallery, Edinburgh  (2013); Space Time: Convention T, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge, (2013); Lolcats, Generator Projects, Dundee (2012). Recent screenings include: Alchemy Film & Moving Image Festival (2017); Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India (2016); TECHSTYLE Series 1.0: Ariadne’s Thread at MILL 6, Hong Kong (2016); Athens and Luxembourg Film Festival (2016); Moving Pictures, British Council and Film London (2015-16); Impakt Festival, Utrecht, The Netherlands (2014).




Artists’ Film International


In 2007 the Whitechapel Gallery closed for a major expansion, leaving only the auditorium open to visitors. This became the launch pad for a pioneering collaborative programme dedicated to artists’ films. Ten years later Artists’ Film International has grown from five to 15 partners pooling local knowledge to exchange moving image works across the globe, from Kabul to Hong Kong, Tromsø to Buenos Aires.


Partner organisations are: Ballroom Marfa, Texas; Belgrade Cultural Centre; Centre for Contemporary Arts Afghanistan (CCAA), Kabul; Fundación PROA, Buenos Aires; Galleria D’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (GAMEC), Bergamo; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Hanoi/DOCLAB; Istanbul Modern; Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT), Lisbon; Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.) Video Forum, Berlin; Para Site, Hong Kong; Project 88, Mumbai; Tromsø Kunstforening; Whitechapel Gallery, London


Previous Partners: Beirut Art Center; Cinémathèque de Tanger, Tangier; City Gallery Wellington, New Zealand; Henie Onstad Art Centre, Høvikodden, Norway; The Institute for the Readjustment of Clocks, Istanbul; Kunsthaus Zürich; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; National Centre for Contemporary Arts (NCCA), Moscow; New Media Centre, Haifa; San Art, Ho Chi Minh City; Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing




Emily Butler is Mahera and Mohammad Abu Ghazaleh Curator at the Whitechapel Gallery, projects include the ongoing Artists’ Film International programme, survey exhibitions such as Electronic Superhighway (2016), major solo shows by Hannah Höch (2014), John Stezaker, Wilhelm Sasnal (2011), collection displays for example the ISelf Collection, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington (2017), commissions by artists including Benedict Drew (2016), Kader Attia (2013) and Rachel Whiteread (2012), as well as festivals such as Art Night 2017. She previously worked in the Visual Arts Department of the British Council, and contributes to international publications and independent projects.  

Posted by EYEBALL_Media Arts Webzine

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