Rachael McArthur is a Toronto-based artist whose photography explores the fascinating crossroads of modernity and classical culture, with a particular focus on the family structure. Featured here is an ongoing project called A Family Façade, which examines domesticity and social identity through a Victorian lens. Throughout the images—each with an intentionally staged appearance—McArthur captures the gilded debris of aristocracy and repression: ornamental coffins filled with flowers, pipes and alcohol bottles arranged like cherished knickknacks, and lockable suitcases containing old family photos and letters. Pulled between beauty and contrivance, each photo produces a tension of arbitrary decoration and the muffled underbelly of familial memory and secrets.
McArthur is particularly interested in how the body can be used to project a constructed (and often idealized) identity. In the Victorian era—not unlike today—materiality and the cohesion of the familial unit were a means to manifest an air of “success” and contentment. This is seen in McArthur’s adorned sculptures; well-dressed and surrounded by beautiful, antiquated objects, they appear deceivingly calm and graceful, provided for in every material way. The absence of faces and limbs, however, tells a different story; without eyes or hands to express the figures’ emotional worlds, the viewer sees the beautiful objects for what they are—superficial, gaudy façades that merely upholster an unsettling truth.
Layer after layer of meaning can be unraveled from McArthur’s works as she examines the historical and present-day significance of family and identity. Visit her website, blog, and Instagram to learn more about her work.