Rachel Maclean does Disney for the Instagram age. The main film installation in the Scottish artist’s brutally bright, saccharinely coloured new exhibition is a fairytale about a young blonde Disney princess/beauty vlogger called Mi. Her anxiety about ageing and greying and wrinkling overwhelms her, leading to a battle with her own ugliness, an axe fight with a withered version of herself. Her world keeps spinning upside down, the gravity flipping, everything going all topsy turvy.
The mirror into which she looks attempts to peek up her skirt, grab at her breasts and strangle her. Gradually Mi is pushed further into a violent battle with herself.
Maclean’s one of the most interesting, direct, instantly recognizable artists working in the UK today. This film, which is all digital animation, lacks the visual impact of her previous hybrid live-action-CGI films, but still packs a punch. It’s nasty, vicious stuff, all wrapped in candy floss.
Upstairs, the same Mi character appears in paintings and tapestries, even as a doll: a dual figure, grey-scale and zombified on one side, young, blonde and perfect on the other.
It’s nasty, vicious stuff, all wrapped in candy floss.
The paintings are big, chaotic, messy things, filled with symbolism and the signature Maclean emojis-meets-My-Little-Pony aesthetic. They’re digital, but covered in hand-painted crackles that make them look like they’ve been stuffed in an attic somewhere for years and years.
These are complex-looking works, but that’s deceptive, because Maclean’s point is simple: vanity and social media narcissism isn’t just gross, it’s dangerous. The commodification of beauty leads to profound anxiety for countless people. That anxiety is played out - violently, horribly, sweetly - across her paintings and film.
That’s the thing about modern beauty standards, they can be really, really ugly.