Scottish independence: A whole new world

This week's Dazed Visionary, artist Rachel Maclean, explores themes of colonialism and empire in this surreal film

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Glasgow-based filmmaker Rachel Maclean debuts an exclusive cut of her latest film A Whole New World, commissioned for the Margaret Tait Award 2013 in conjunction with Glasgow Film Festival, Creative Scotland and Lux which takes on Scottish independence and British empire in her signature hyper-saturated and surreal style. Click the link below to read more about her unique vision of the world and why David Bowie’s call for Scotland to stay in the UK was “the icing on the Great British cake of nonsense”.

Dazed Digital: You've got a very distinct visual aesthetic. How did you develop that vision over time, or have you always been attracted to that kind of style?

Rachel Maclean: I have always been fascinated by the visual grotesque, especially the idea of taking something seemly benign or cutesy and pushing it to it’s extreme. Creating visual spaces that are so intensely maximal that they become unsettling or repulsive. Much of my use of the products and aesthetic of popular culture is in this vein. 

DD: How would you describe your work to someone who's never seen it before?

Rachel Maclean: My work slips inside and outside of history and into imagined futures, creating hyper-glowing, artificially saturated visions that are both nauseatingly positive and cheerfully grotesque. I work largely in green-screen composite video and digital print, often installing this alongside related costume and sculpture.

I am the only actor or model in her work and invent a variety of characters that mime to appropriated audio and toy with age and gender. These clones embody unstable identities: conversing, interacting and shifting between cartoonish archetypes, ghostly apparitions and hollow inhuman playthings. 

DD: When did you first start using green screen, and why were you drawn to that technology?

Rachel Maclean: I studied drawing and painting at art college and became excited by the possibility green-screen offered in allowing me to create layered, imaginary visual worlds within the live action moving image, similar to the way I was already working with paint and photographic collage. It’s very time consuming and takes a sickening number of hours. I won’t try and calculate it. However, it can also be strangely meditative and I do really enjoy it. It’s quite escapist and otherworldly in it’s own, slightly tedious way.

DD: So what's your take on Scottish independence? 

Rachel Maclean: I am not interested in producing art that is propaganda for either the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ campaigns. But I am interested in exploring the sense in which both Scottish and British identities are formed through a complex interplay of myths, selectively interpreted histories and at the very least, gross generalisations. I am keen to explore this, not so much as a problem that needs solved, but an essential aspect of the way we establish and maintain notions of national identity.

DD: How does A Whole New World play into your vision of Scotland?

Rachel Maclean: I was more interested in looking at broader ideas of national identity and cultural imperialism, specifically in relation to the former British Empire. The film is shot entirely using green-screen and set within the landscape of a dying planet, a kind of post-apocalyptic world, where cities and monuments are burning and half buried in earth. I felt that there was something funny and absurd about setting up a conceit where the few characters that are left inhabiting an all but desolate globe, choose to spend their time quarrelling over their nations status, redrawing boundaries and hanging onto symbols of past grandeur and glorious civilisation that seem all but wasted away.

DD: What do you think of David Bowie asking Scotland to stay in the UK?   

Rachel Maclean: Much of the media coverage and political machinations of the Yes and No factions of the referendum debate has already descended into bizarre farce, however this was the icing on the Great British cake of nonsense. It was amusingly surreal and I was particularly inspired by Bowie’s decision to filter the statement through the avatar of Kate Moss. I strongly believe that all future decisions affecting the unity and otherwise of these Great Isles should be delivered through the glamorous conduit of an international super model. 

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