Rachel Maclean’s animated installation Spite Your Face shows at the Zabludowicz Collection in Kentish Town. The 37 minute film takes us on a visceral, uncomfortable journey inside Pic’s world (Pic is a blue-skinned, post-Brexit response to Gepettos’ Pinocchio). We are plunged into a familiar yet bleakly dystopian world filled with grotesque, disturbing characters.
In one of the early scenes Pic, a street kid with hungry bloated eyes and scabbed skin, sits shivering on a street corner. He is waiting for someone, or more accurately, something to save him from his destitution. A golden stick falls from the sky and into Pic’s lap offering him an unexpected get-out card.
At first Pic is startled by this random stroke of good fortune. Minutes later a golden boy (with no nose) falls from the sky and lands beside, the now doubly perturbed, Pic. The golden, noseless boy could be an angel or a monster, whatever he is, the town members (a collection of waifs and strays, all speaking in different languages) are quick to gather around him and pronounce him dead. The mob begin to disrobe their visitor, drooling over his fine watches and chains. Pic, meanwhile, realises with horror that the golden stick he clutches in his hand is the nose belonging to the fallen golden-boy. Making a speedy retreat he takes the nose to a nearby church.
The church is a decrepit building with a swinging neon sign that reads Offerings For the Third World. Pic enters the church tentatively to offer up the golden nose and hopefully secure his way to a better life above the clouds (The only way out is up). Pic is encouraged to click on a computer screen with a selection of multiple-choice wishes, as a futuristic machine assesses the value of his golden-nose offering. He has seconds to click on as many wishes as he likes. The machine re-boots and tells Pic his offering has successfully secured him 2 wishes; wealth and the opportunity to enter the realm above, a world of dreams, truth and opportunity.
Pic, accompanied by a sexualised guardian angel (who looks a cross between an Egyptian God and Mother Theresa), leaves his dirt-bleak world behind and heads up, to a new sunny new realm of opportunity. He is given, by his Guardian Angel, a spray-on bottle of “Truth” which, she warns him, will not last forever.
In the world above the clouds Pic finds himself ‘befriending’ a gentleman who offers him money and status in return for selling bottles of Untruth, disguised as Truth. The kicker is that each time Pic tells or sells an Untruth, his nose grows longer and nasty welts appear on his arm (re-turning him to his post-truth, destitute self). These welts and skin-deformities can only be cured by a spray of the real finite truth….and so…the wealthier he becomes the more he regresses.
The next time the guardian angel arrives to check up on Pic, she finds him, in a room full of expensive clothing and objects. Pic is excitedly pleasuring himself when she appears, touching his long-with-lies nose. Concerned for Pic, the angel asks him how has he managed to accrue so much wealth in such a short space of time. Pic reluctantly tells her that he has been selling bottles of Untruth in exchange for fame and wealth. The scene ends with Pic getting angry and out of control, he is annoyed that his godly guardian has come to check up on him and instead of listening to her advice he holds down her head aggressively and inserts his phallic nose into her mouth. It is a disturbingly familiar scene, memories of #MeToo voices swelling up behind the picture, as Pic wields his new-found power and status, reducing the God to a victim before our eyes.
Eventually Pic realises he is running out of the original magical Truth. His lies are beginning to irreversibly mark his body and his nose has grown out of control. At a dinner party with his “friends” one man reaches out to touch his gleaming beak. Whilst the curious fan reaches out to stroke the golden nose it snaps away and Pic if left with a gaping mound of flesh and blood at the centre of his face. His momentary escapade into the world-above is over. The golden façade crumbles away and Pic falls back to the dank dystopian Earth below. The cycle repeats (both literally and metaphorically). We see the original Pic, cold and begging on the street, waiting for a stroke of fortune to save him. Minutes later a falling golden boy (whom we now recognise as future Pic) crashes to the ground and is again pronounced dead by an impatient mob.
Spite Your Face is a fascinating mediation on life in a post-truth society, where un-truth is sold as a commodity, where lies are peppered with twists of real truths. We see how quickly Pic forgets his previous life as he morphs into a creeping caricature of his former self. The video is chaotic, bright, shocking and, in places, funny. It shines a light on the madness and confusion of our current climate, offering a tangled reflection on society, power and the role of the media.
Catch it while you can.