Collective, City Observatory 38 Calton Hill Edinburgh EH7 5AA

Holly McLean: If you get the knees right the rest should follow

Collective, online

5 December 2020 — 31 January 2021 (dates liable to change due to COVID-19 restrictions)

Review by Eva Szwarc

A woman stands by her car, removing her wetsuit from the open boot. She stretches it over her body like a small ritual, while she jokes with the person holding the camera. As she pulls up the wetsuit from her ankles, she laughs: “If you get the knees right, the rest should follow.” So forms the title of Holly McLean’s film from 2020, which opens with fellow artist Alice Vandeleur-Boorer getting ready to surf. Wetsuit donned, she runs into the water. Alice bobs over the waves, riding across and surrendering to them, her body flopping majestically into the foam.

On show at Collective in Edinburgh, the film accompanies a portrait-collage in the exhibition of the same title. However, due to the gallery’s closure under current restrictions, the ten-minute film has been made available for public viewing on their website. Though the immersive experience of a gallery space is absent, there is something more intimate in watching the film unfold from a private setting.

Following the opening scene, coastal landscape shifts to chaotic scenes of a family household; chalk is scattered across the sofa, food is splashed over a high chair. A conversation of strategy takes place between parents and a car journey is taken with Alice’s children to her workshop. Alice offers an invitation into her life or, rather, a glimpse into a few of her roles as a surfer, mother, partner and even a caravan restorer. She shares the cathartic process of excavating a caravan, how pulling it apart and building it back up helped her work through post-natal depression. “So this caravan is like my mind,” Alice laughs, popping her head through the open roof.

Despite a snappy length of ten minutes, ‘If you get the knees right the rest should follow’ builds a warm and layered portrait. McLean allows the narrative to open up organically at the pace of the central voice. The intimate dialogue between the subject and the artist is both frank and witty, as topics of parenthood, mental health and creativity emerge. The work fits into a series of film portraits by McLean, following ‘Saturnrania’ (2019), which focuses on an experimental physicist at work and in nature, expecting her first child, and ‘This is My Sister’ (2018) in which the artist’s sister returns to her flat for the first time after being stalked for nine months.

The openness and authenticity in each are the strengths of McLean’s work. Through conversation, questions and silence, the subject cuts into a part of their own life and offers us a slice. ‘If you get the knees right the rest should follow’ is ultimately a snippet, but one that carries weight. We discover parts of Alice as she presents different spaces and processes, from putting on a wetsuit to restoring a caravan. In a way, the film is like a hand reaching out. It fosters a feeling of camaraderie and community, not just between Alice and the artist, but between all women whose stories are shared but not always sung.

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