Rachel Maclean: The Lion and The Unicorn review

Art National Gallery , Trafalgar Square Until Sunday February 3 2019
4 out of 5 stars
Rachel Maclean: The Lion and The Unicorn review
Rachel Maclean 'The Queen' (2013) © Rachel Maclean

We’re a confusing country. Between cricket, Marmite and Geordie accents there’s an awful lot to leave you scratching your head, but there’s nothing more perplexing than the union itself; an uncomfortable patchwork of barely tolerant neighbours, composed of multiple languages, accents, parliaments and fragile relations.

The Scottish independence referendum of 2014 was a nexus point where all of our bizarre inter-national consternation came to the fore. Its fraught lead-up was also the inspiration for Scottish artist Rachel Maclean’s 2012 film, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn' and the series of images on display here. The whole show is a beautifully costumed, perfectly surreal and ultra-sardonic takedown of the Anglo-Scottish relationship – a neat little riposte to 'The Monarch of the Glen' on show in another room.

Maclean shows up dripping in union flags to represent the Queen, she dresses as a lion to embody British voices and a unicorn for Scottish ones. She nabs speeches by David Cameron and the Queen, nicks bits of combative verbal jousting between Jeremy Paxman and Alex Salmond, and embodies all their voices. The English come across as arrogant, pompous, argumentative toffs, and the Scots as proud, slurry rebels.

Across the walls, framed images show anthropomorphic thistles being battered by English golfers and Scottish skeletons stalking the Queen.

The entire thing is an aggressively colourful satirical world that Maclean has built, stabbing at stereotypes and nationalistic bravado. By cherry-picking and condensing down the puffed-chest bluster of nationalism, Maclean manages to summarise, undermine and mock the whole messy affair. You walk away shaking your head at the silliness of it all, slightly in awe of Maclean’s cleverness, and very ready to vote for your own independence from this stupid island.

By: Eddy Frankel

Venue name: National Gallery
Contact:
Address: Trafalgar Square
London
WC2N 5DN
Opening hours: Open daily 10am–6pm, Fridays 10am–9pm. Closed Jan 1, Dec 24–26.
Transport: Tube: Charing Cross
Price: Free
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