ONCE upon a time, in the middle of the woods, there was an upside-down shop. And in the upside-down shop there was an upside-down girl …

“You follow the hearts,” the artist Rachel Maclean tells me as we walk through the trees. On the ground in front of us a trail of candy-coloured cordiform tiles are embedded in the soil.

We are in a bosky glade in Jupiter Artland, near Ratho and Maclean is taking me to see her new work. Entitled upside mimi ᴉɯᴉɯ uʍop (yes, it's supposed to be like that), it is her first permanent outdoor commission. It takes her familiar concerns (gender, femininity, body image, identity, late-era capitalism) and her traditional aesthetics (pinkness, cuteness, flamboyance) into new territory. For once the video artist’s fantasies have been made concrete. Or plasterboard and wood at any rate.

“It feels like an extension of what I’d done before, but the idea of making an outdoor sculpture is a challenge if you make videos,” Maclean admits.

Still, that’s what she has done. Follow the hearts and you find a shop that, at first glance, is all primary colours. But then you see the dirt, the graffiti, the abandonment.

“I wanted a building that’s a bit like a shop that has closed down,” Maclean tells me as we take her creation in. “I really liked the idea of a building in a forest, for it to have the Hansel and Gretel feeling of you coming across this candy-coloured building drawing you in, but then what’s inside it is darker and more difficult than it seems on the surface.”


Well, indeed. Within is a building that is itself topsy-turvy and is home to an animated film about a character called Mimi, one which takes in fairy tales, magic mirrors (that may just be the internet), consumerism, fear of ageing and the corrosive effects of social media. It’s as if David Lynch directed a Disney cartoon.

Maclean looks like she has just walked out of a cartoon herself. Over the years for her video work, she has dressed up as everything from anime characters, cartoon lions and unicorns, to germs. Today she’s dressed in a yellow patterned coat and yellow boots. Her hair is blue, pink and yellow.

Maclean is best known for her Venice Biennale commission Spite Your Face, which combined a character who owed more than a little to Pinocchio with a treatise on contemporary global politics in all its Brexity, Trumpy ugliness. This latest work brings the same interest in the contemporary world filtered through media imagery and fairy tale myth. It’s also a response to the very idea of outdoor artwork.

“I think whenever I come to sculpture parks and see permanent artworks I wonder, ‘What that will look like 100 years from now?” Maclean explains, “Or if you didn’t look after it. So, I’ve almost worked that into it to an extent. It hopefully feels like it’s been here for quite a long time already.”

Filtered through Maclean’s baroque imagination, upside mimi ᴉɯᴉɯ uʍop is a fairy tale for the Instagram generation. The work both feeds on and dissects the white noise of our social media-inflected world.


“I guess I’ve been interested in what the internet does for quite a while, “Maclean explains. “I think there was a time for feminism when the internet seemed this really utopian thing. Disembodiment basically. You can go on and you can become something completely different, and you no longer need to be defined by your body and your gender and how you look. And that seemed great, a whole new conception of gender.

“But the reality of the internet has bizarrely intensified our obsession with our bodies, despite effectively being a disembodied space.

“I’m interested in that feeling as a woman of visibility and invisibility, where sometimes there’s a power to being visible and making non-conventional beauty something that is visible. But there’s also a degree to which sometimes you feel like invisibility would be a comfort.”

Based in Glasgow, Maclean grew up in Dollar in Clackmannanshire, which looked at in a certain way, might be a fairy tale background in itself. “I guess Dollar is an almost chocolate-box Scotland,” Maclean agrees. “It’s got the hills and the glens and the castle and all of that stuff that as a tourist you might expect to find in Scotland. There is a fantasy aspect to it as a place.”

Her love of dressing up was apparent from childhood. That didn’t make her a show-off, she says. “I’m quite shy. But I’ve always liked dressing up. One of my earliest memories was dressing up as a popcorn box for the Dollar Gala, which is maybe when I discovered some part of my personality that has been difficult and useful. I get quite obsessed with an idea and then I’ve just got to do it. I just had to be the popcorn box and it was this obsession for at least a month and then I did it and I was like, ‘Oh, well, it’s okay.’”

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Her work has what you might call a gendered aesthetic; it is drawn to textures and colours and ideas that draw on popular notions of femininity. But it’s an act of both interrogation and reclamation.

“I think I get beyond the surface of things a wee bit, especially with this kind of imagery, this feminine aesthetic, which is fed to children and little girls,

“Artistically, it’s often treated as being not serious enough, almost not masculine enough of an aesthetic to make work. For me I think it’s almost a political thing to take that world we are all familiar with and really delve into it a bit more. There is an aspect to it that works to suck you in, it does something to you that you just feel like, ‘I want this.’ Or it does to me.”


The implication is that it’s imagery that’s not taken very seriously because it’s girly, un-masculine in some way. This is something Maclean feels the need to battle against; the idea that masculinity equals seriousness.

“I think I am aware as an artist that if you are a woman and you make masculine work you are liable to be taken more seriously than if you make more feminine work.”

In other words, masculinity is significant, while femininity can be labelled silly or frivolous.

“I am politically interested in that because I think it challenges people to work out why they would normally dismiss that aesthetic. I think it can be dismissed as, ‘Oh, it’s silly.’

“But if you dig a bit deeper, it’s a larger dismissal of female experience and this idea that for women to have power they have to ape masculinity, and femininity needs to be abandoned.”

She has no intention of doing so. Indeed, Maclean wants to take it further. She is currently working on a script for a feature film, suggesting she’s ready to follow in the footsteps of Steve McQueen who has already morphed from artist to filmmaker.

“I at least want to try it once,” Maclean says. “I’ve had to learn quite a lot about it. Video art is supposed to break rules. That’s what it’s there for almost. That’s the expectation you take to it.

“But with a feature film you have almost got to fit it into a pre-existing structure or else people won’t even recognise it as a feature film. It’s like getting my head around that. What do you subvert and what do you not subvert?”

Right now, though, she could do with a rest. What are you doing tomorrow, Rachel, I ask? “Finishing the film,” she says wearily. There is still a little rendering to do, she says. And on your first day off? “I think just sleeping would be really nice.”

There’s a fairy story about that too, isn’t there?

upside mimi ᴉɯᴉɯ uʍop is now on permanent display at Jupiter Artland. A supporting exhibition of her work continues at Jupiter Artland until July 18