Preview: Wot u
:-) about?

Celebrity culture and marketed childhood come under the critical eye of artist Rachel Maclean and her grotesque, candy-coloured digital artworks

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Fairy tales are universally recognised for their timeless and recurring themes of love, wisdom, justice and loyalty. The formula is simple: the downtrodden young girl transforms into a princess and marries Prince Charming, the evil get their comeuppance and the loyal are rewarded. No fairy tale is complete without the all-important happy ending.

The narratives are conventionally passed down through generations, but Scottish artist Rachel Maclean uses the stereotypical aspects of the fairy tale genre to critique the boundary between child and adult, exploring ideas about identity, commodified happiness and the politics of fear. Her work constructs fantasy narratives set in computer-generated landscapes, and the artist plays each of the characters in her films, prints and photographs, donning eccentric costumes and make-up.

Maclean’s latest exhibition Wot u 🙂 about? uses a combination of prints, sculptures and film to explore the way we use language and how identity can be edited and falsely constructed.

The project is bold. Alongside its themes of identity and happiness, Wot u 🙂 about? also tackles the consumerist culture that engulfs society and explores the way data is collected and used by corporate companies.

“I was interested in ideas about data management and happiness, and how happiness is incorporated into marketing and businesses and how that runs through contemporary experience,” says Maclean, who is set to represent Scotland at next year’s Venice Biennale.

“The film features a character who is sort of a Kim Kardashian/cyborg character who exists in this world which is something like our own but maybe partly a dystopian future. She oscillates between this kind of esteemed celebrity, who is also a figurehead for a data management company, and this very lonely obese character on life support.

“And within that there’s also these rat characters who run through the prints and through the sculptures. They look like cute rats but at the same time there’s something unsettling and disruptive about them. They interact within this world, which, like my older works, constantly slips between different tones and genres. It’s not a linear narrative.”

Maclean draws on children’s television, social media and celebrity culture to help construct her futuristic dystopian landscapes. She uses a distinctive palate of baby pink and blue to create a saccharine, candy-coloured world and aims to communicate a darkly comic take on consumption, “happiness marketing” and childhood for audiences to reflect on.

“All my work is interested in identity in different ways. I’m interested in creating quite unsettling characters. I guess all my work is political to an extent but I don’t necessarily want to define it for people in terms of what they should experience.

“I want the world that is created in the exhibition to be seductive and something that people want to spend time thinking about. But I also want there to be a certain feeling of repulsion or the grotesque.

“I’d like people to leave with some feeling of experiencing things that are within contemporary cultures – social media, TV, celebrity culture – stuff that’s part of our daily experience. And hopefully come out of it with some slightly unsettling feelings.”

Rachel Maclean: Wot u 🙂 about? is at Home, Manchester until 8 January (

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:-) about?

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