Press Office

If it looks like a duck

Rachel Maclean: if it looks like a duck

Published on: 2 May 2023

Newcastle University NUAcT Research Fellow Rachel Maclean’s new exhibition features a deepfake British spy thriller starring Sean Connery and Marilyn Monroe.

The centrepiece of the exhibition If it looks like a duck is Maclean’s latest film, DUCK. Maclean presents a British spy thriller starring Sean Connery and Marilyn Monroe. Using deepfake visuals and audio, the multimedia artist - who plays all the characters - swaps her voice and face with the very recognisable cast of actors. Both the protagonist and the viewer find themselves in a surreal, ever-shifting reality in which fixed definitions of identity and trustworthiness are questioned. The characters frequently act like they are just playing a game and behave like the normal rules of mortality don’t apply to them, leading to them quite literally driving themselves off a cliff - a possible reflection on Brexit and an overwrought British self-confidence seeding its own dissolution.

The world of the film expands into the gallery, which has been transformed into a wood panelled interior, a traditional style reminiscent of a British private members club. Accenting this stuffy aesthetic are surreal hints of neon green light, which give it an otherworldly, unsettling feel.

The image shows several deepfake Marilyn Monroes
An image from DUCK by Rachel Maclean

Can you believe what you see?

The brand new work forms an ambitious solo show at Kunstpalais, Germany, which runs until 2 July 2023. The exhibition is inspired by and makes ironic reference to the saying: ‘If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and acts like a duck, then it is, most probably, a duck.’ The meaning of the idiom, that you can believe what you see, is repeatedly thrown on its head through the artist’s use of deepfake video, illusionary painting and disorienting interiors.

The artist captivates audiences with elaborately produced digital worlds, extravagant costumes, and colourful alternative realities. Her narrative films and paintings are appealing, comical, and highly unsettling. Drawing on pop-cultural references, she critically examines social contexts, political systems, consumerism, and phenomena of the digital world. Maclean has exhibited her work widely, from the National Gallery and Tate Britain in London to the Venice Biennale, where she represented Scotland in 2017.

Alongside DUCK, Maclean presents a new series of paintings. The works look all the world like oil paintings, but are in fact produced in Photoshop, further compounding the feeling that you can’t trust your senses. Each painting has an almost, but not quite identical counterpart, which is displayed upside-down. Turned on its head, the work takes on a different meaning, showing how truth warps and shifts dependent on one’s perspective.

DUCK (2023) was produced by Forest of Black with support from Newcastle University, Kunstpalais, Inspace, and Edinburgh University’s Department of Design Informatics.

Press release adapted with thanks to Rachel Maclean



Latest News