Make Me Up: artist Rachel Maclean addresses feminism, female agency and social media in brand new surrealist film

  • NQ attends a post-screening Q&A with multimedia artist Rachel Maclean
  • Artist discusses feminism, female autonomy and social media
  • Make Me Up is showcased as part of HOMEmcr's Artist Film Weekender

If you have ever wondered what George Orwell’s 1984 might look like if it were set in Barbie’s Dream House, then Rachel Maclean’s bold new film has the answer.

HOMEmcr showcased Make Me Up on Friday as part of their Artist Film Weekender 2018, its fourth annual celebration of all things surreal and spectacular.

Multimedia artist and filmmaker Rachel Maclean was present after the screening to discuss the issues women face when it comes to representing uncanny visions of femininity.

Make Me Up is a dark portrayal of saccharine femininity played out in the hyperreal, where female inmates (notably, all named after female AI) are trapped inside a garish pink prison and subjected to a series of tasks.

The female protagonist, Siri, is ranked alongside her peers on feminine ideals such as likability, cuteness, sexiness and agreeability – as they all desperately compete to be ‘Winner no 1’.

Much of the film focuses on a lack of female voice and agency, emulating Rachel Maclean’s own concerns about female autonomy within the world of art and cinema.

“The trouble you have as a female artist or a female filmmaker, is that so much of art and film has been made with the male gaze in mind – made in some way to control or present women in a particular way, and it’s how you use the visual image in a way that seems liberating,” she said.

 “To have a voice is to have power and to be voiceless is to be powerless.  I wanted that to be something in film, where the women are voiceless for a large part of the film and you become used to that. Then getting voices at the end with this cacophony of voices is almost like a sense of release.”

Maclean uses snippets of Kenneth Clarke’s audio from the 1960s BBC series Civilisation, as the voice of the authoritarian diva who commands her subjects.

She said: “I started to think a about that idea of Kenneth Clarke as this very powerful, white, upper-middle-class figure and this idea of civilisation as defined by Kenneth Clarke – and the reason why he would want to protect that civilisation from falling into ruins.

“The initial idea for the film was, what would happen if this very patriarchal idea of civilisation was to be ruined or fall through and who would in that situation be liberated in the process. I was thinking of an inverted apocalypse movie, where the apocalypse is a good thing.”

Maclean merges the audio of prominent female figures such as Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Margaret Thatcher and Germaine Greer, alongside works of art such as Henry Moore’s Recumbent Figure and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus to further emphasise the disparity between female voice and representation.

On social media and understanding female identity, Rachel said: “You’re brought up in many ways as a woman to understand your relationship with other women as competitive for men, or competing to be the most beautiful, or seeing other women as a competition, and I think that’s really problematic.”

Rachel Maclean’s Make Me Up is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.