Scottish artist Rachel Maclean’s new installation has opened on Perth’s High Street as part of a collaborative project to safeguard the future of the country’s creative industries.
From the outside, it resembles a dilapidated toy shop that’s on the verge of closing down. But step through the doorway and you’ll discover a disturbing, upside down dystopian world.
A very creative space
The disused premises located at 139 High Street have not only been transformed into an exhibition space by the artist, there are also three storeys of flexible learning spaces above.
These include a green screen studio, media labs and creative workshop. These will be used by students from across the region in addition to a public program.
Jupiter+ Perth is the first in a series of planned collaborations instigated by the team behind Edinburgh’s award-winning sculpture park, Jupiter Artland.
The new off-site commissioning platform will see contemporary artists bringing art into the heart of communities across Scotland through temporary takeovers of public spaces.
Next generation talent
It also aims to provide learning opportunities to inspire the next generation of artists, targeting 15 – 25 year olds who may wish to pursue a career in Scotland’s creative industries.
Rachel says she enjoyed being able to see people’s reactions as she went about transforming the shop.
She explains: “Normally when you make an artwork nobody sees it until the opening, but I had this feeling of gradually getting a sense of people’s response to it.
The banal things
“A had a lot of people asking ‘what is it’? and that’s partly intentional because I want it to be an experience that makes you question some of the banalities of what you experience on the high street – things that are almost invisible, they are so banal.”
Inside the free installation, visitors find themselves in a garish candy pink and powder blue shop that has apparently become neglected, dirty and run-down.
Moving to the back of the space, there is a cluttered cupboard with an animation playing on a huge pink mobile phone screen.
It features Rachel’s cartoon princess Mimi, a fairy-tale character that has appeared in her work since 2021.
Familiar, and unfamiliar
Inverted signs read “Nothing Must Go” and boxes of upside down Mimi dolls are stacked high, yet cannot be purchased. Outside, the ever-familiar “To Let” sign instead pleads: “Don’t Let Mi!”
Rachel goes on: “I wanted it to be on some level familiar – and you know how you’re supposed to engage with it. That’s the nice thing about a shop because people feel welcome to come in.
“But on another level it’s jarring and slightly confusing and hopefully makes you question some of the things that are so ordinary you don’t even think about it.
“I think also being in a shop – or a space that feels like a shop – and not being able to buy anything is quite an odd experience. You’re being told not to buy things.”
A green screen
Rachel studied at Edinburgh College of Art and has exhibited in the UK and internationally. She produces elaborate films and digital prints using green screen visual effects.
She features as the actor in many of her works and has also worked on various TV commissions with the BBC and Channel 4. Rachel represented Scotland + Venice at the Venice Biennale 2017.
Last year she created a permanent version of the Mimi store at Jupiter Artland, sited in its woodland and accessed via a Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb trail of heart-shaped stones. Now she has reimagined the work for Perth High Street.
Rachel is also excited to be able to share her practice with local young people. She says: “I definitely remember when I was a teenager you often just needed a wee spark of something that would give you a sense of possibility that you hadn’t really considered before.
“We are going to be doing the green screen workshops and working with new technology and what I am excited about is having this complete artwork that isn’t just an object in a space – it’s much more of an experience.”
She adds: “When I have seen art that influenced me it’s often like a wee rupture in your normal world. You go back to your normal world and it just looks a bit different and things feel a bit different.”
The exhibition runs until January 28, 2023