Venice Biennale: Making Pinocchio into a satire on Trump

Art Image copyright Rachel Maclean

The Scottish artist Rachel Maclean has turned the story of Pinocchio into a grotesque satire on the age of Donald Trump.

Maclean graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2009. She is representing Scotland at the 57th Venice Biennale.

Her film, Spite Your Face, transforms the 19th century Italian tale of a wooden puppet who wants to be a real boy into a dark and disturbing satire of the era of celebrity, fake news and reality television.

The 29-year-old artist, who now lives in Glasgow, plays all the parts in the film herself.

She has transformed her identity with the aid of elaborate costumes and the help of prosthetic designer Kristyan Mallett, who has worked on the Harry Potter movie franchise.

The images were recorded using green screen technology at Swamp media centre - a social enterprise in the Pollok area of Glasgow.

Spite Your Face is influenced by Disney's version of Pinocchio, as well as great paintings by Renaissance artists such as Piero della Francesca.

Image copyright Rachel Maclean
Image caption The work is a satire on celebrity, fake news and reality television

The film tells the rags to riches story of an urchin called Pic. His life is transformed when he is catapulted into "The World Above", a consumer heaven where money equals power.

As the face of a perfume brand called Untruth, Pic becomes a rich and famous media personality, and a political demagogue, at the expense of his ethics and happiness.

Maclean wrote the screenplay on a trip to Venice in December 2016.

She said: "I was interested in how lies had played out in the Brexit campaign and the Trump campaign. Journalism exposed the lies but that didn't affect the outcome.

"I was interested in how democracy works. We are less rational than we like to think we are and driven by belief systems."

The exhibition, which runs from 13 May to 26 November, is sited in the Chiesa di Santa Caterina, in the Cannaregio area of Venice.

Image copyright PATRICK RAFFERTY
Image caption The exhibition has been installed in a Venetian church

It is a deconsecrated church, which ironically was founded in the 13th century by a mendicant order of friars, who took a vow of poverty.

The church was later associated with Saint Catherine of Alexandria and became a wealthy Augustinian nunnery which was decorated with the finest art works by artists such as Tintoretto.

The building was damaged by fire in the 1970s and the nunnery is now part of a school.

Launched in 1895, the Venice Biennale is the most important date in the visual arts calendar. Scottish artists have shown at the prestigious festival since Charles Rennie Mackintosh exhibited with a group of artists in 1899.

Since 2003, the Scotland and Venice project has presented the work of Scottish artists, as an official collateral event at the international festival.

It is a partnership between Creative Scotland, the National Galleries of Scotland and British Council Scotland.

Image copyright PATRICK RAFFERTY
Image caption Rachel Maclean studied painting and drawing at Edinburgh College of Art

Maclean said: "It is unique, it's like the Eurovision song contest for art. People represent their countries.

"As an artist it's interesting to see what artists are selected. Like the Eurovision song contest there's that sense that you can get the impression of global politics, and the internal politics of a nation, by what they have decided to show."

Artists who have exhibited as part of Scotland and Venice since 2003 include Simon Starling, Martin Boyce and Duncan Campbell - all of whom subsequently won the Turner Prize.

The Glasgow artist Karla Black, who exhibited for Scotland and Venice in 2011, is also showing again at this year's festival in the main exhibition.

Maclean's exhibition is curated by Richard Ashrowan who founded Alchemy Film and Arts in 2010. Its annual film festival is held in Hawick in the Scottish Borders.

He said: "The biennale is the world's greatest platform for international exposure for artists. It is a major opportunity.

"Rachel is almost 30 and has had considerable success in the UK and great critical acclaim for her work. Part of this process is about giving artist a platform they wouldn't have otherwise."

Image copyright Rachel Maclean

Maclean studied painting and drawing at Edinburgh College of Art.

She came to prominence with complex digital video works using her own image such as Feed Me. It was recently acquired by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and satirised social media and reality television.

Maclean memorably played both Alex Salmond and David Cameron in The Lion and The Unicorn - her film about the independence referendum shown at Edinburgh Printmakers in 2012.

Her latest film will be shown back in Scotland at the Talbot Rice Gallery at the University of Edinburgh in 2018.

Over the course of the Venice exhibition, 14 students from six Scottish art colleges will take part in a professional development project.

They will each spend four weeks in the city invigilating the exhibition and undertaking independent study. The scheme is credited with kick-starting the careers of artists and curators from Scotland.

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