Laura Carew,
Joshua Y'Barbo


Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Alison Jackson is certainly pertinent, but does her "look-a-like" photography lack the necessary “punctum”?

Ed Eustace

Alison Jacksons image of a cuckolded Princess Diana produces a jolt collision on first viewing. The grainy construction from the peeping Tom perspective speaks of a perverted verisimilitude. Doppelgängers are employed in a crafted scene of wish fulfilment, where the hysterical relay between public and private merge. It is impossible to ignore, melodramatic yet deadly serious it puts you as a tantalised voyeur.

Jackson rose to notoriety exploring such public fantasies, dancing with the tabloids in an explosive satire. The artist conducted a symbiotic relationship with the media. She sensed the pulse of collective memory traumatised by the death of Princess Diana in 1996, the forging of a modern day icon, rupturing it with a scandalous photograph of Diana and Dodi's secret love child. Since then her work has encompassed the press spectacle, deception and simulacrum.  The question begs has it now become fully imbricated in the pernicious spectacle, is it totally commodified lacking any subversive zeal?

A gimmick


Simply not art.

Where comments made when Jackson came to visit her alma mater at the Chelsea College of Arts on the 28th October 2015. For my money, it is art. The seminal Queen on the toilet is undoubtedly intriguing.

Taboo and humour is subsumed as a wedge, to trip the viewer into a dimension of shocked authenticity. A stunning scatological reversal of the body politic. Jacksons prolific output mirrors how the cult of celebrity (now according to some people more important than religion) is multifaceted.  For Jackson herself she posits Kim Kardashian as the latest acolyte on the high alter of the image, created by a bottom. I heard it broke the Internet.

Jackson asserts that the viewer is totally seduced by photographic imagery. Power resides within the medium because you can't erase it from your mind. It invites speculation, neatly dovetailing with the hyperbole of celebrity and the artificial reality of public persona. The situation, one which we presume must happen, looks believable. Such a naturalistic staging is a craft, a form of sculpture (which incidentally Jackson studied at Chelsea). The artists valiant search for lookalikes must be commended; apparently it took her six years to find one for Gordon Brown. One anecdote pertains to when she approached a man who bore an uncanny resemblance to Dianas former lover James Hewitt and asked him to pose, he revealed that he was, actually, James Hewitt and she couldnt afford him. A glitch in the matrix, I think.

The plausible might just be possible. Such deceptive problems in photography fire people's imagination. Constructed and fake; they are a relevant simulation that replaces the real, an ambivalent attack on the monarchy, especially in relation to the near pornographic scenes of Prince William and Princess Kate on their wedding nuptials. Princess Kate read art history, so she must have seen them. It echoes the zeitgeist in asking have things changed because of the celebrity image and what within our imaginations exactly is private? Or is this rather a tale as old as time? It is true how the public persona is all but vapid design. As Guy Debord the predominate theorist of the spectacle wrote celebrities are the agent of the spectacle, the epicenter of non- communication and separation." Ultimately, such techniques are a form of titillating cerebral vandalism, where we are no longer a passive viewer. You laugh before you know why you are laughing, but what is there beneath the first superficial layer?

The debate centres much like with Andy Warhol, whether the art fosters a critical or subversive apprehension of mass culture and the power of the image or exploits it cynically and meritoriously, in what Habermas may see as the "refeudalizationof the public sphere. Warhol, who declared he wanted to be a machine, saw himself and his art as all surface, there was no need to look any further. Marilyn Monroe a figure which many artists including Jackson have gravitated towards is the paradigmatic figure. Perhaps with Warhol there is a canny suspension of the authorial voice. His reaction was almost knee jerk, with silk screens rolling off the presses within weeks of her suicide in 1962. In contrast, Jacksons belated transformation of a not so look-a-like into the buxom, bare bombshell  is beguiling, but borders on the blatant as she caresses a horny JFK.

Jackson admits that forays into advertising limit her to a narrow channel of communication to a sell product, most notably her Schweppes campaign, Sch..weppes it's not really them. The spikey critique is undermined by navigations with the legal world, with disclaimers going on everything. This is not Camilla Parker Bowles, indeed. Jackson's Tussaud-eqse sculptures go one step further, seen most notably with George W Bush attempting to complete a rubric cube, some onlookers apparently try to talk to it, more realistic than a Ron Mueck automaton. Next up from what I could garner from the deluge of one particular audience question, are Trump and Putin, Putin possibly fully naked with much deliberation to the volume of his member. Bush now is in a boardroom, where executives chuckle at the former president's singularity and proceed to gulp down their Schweppes. So for this you will have to look on google, where there is a plethora of Jackson's work and interviews.

Roland Barthess Camera Lucida, written in 1980 the year he died, just before he was run over by a washing van in Pairs, is a great text to elucidate photographic distinctions. Barthes makes a small cameo in Les Soeurs Brontë, so look out. He wrote "Culture is a contact arrived at between creators and consumers," defining two qualities of the optimum expression of photography: Stadium and punctum. A photographic scenario is the intention of the photographer. He has the idea to capture it. We experience this intention in reverse as spectators.  Stadium relates to the referential; journalistic photographs (only this week a woman holding Prince Charless rumpus) and Jackson's look-a-like constructions reside in this bracket. Barthes wrote on stadium, I glance through them, I dont recall them, no detail ever interrupts my reading; I am interested in them (as I am interested in the world) I do not love them.  Equivalent to the like button on facebook by todays standards, I guess. I wager the old flatulating Queenie would get over 80 likes on a quiet day at the hive.

Punctumis an object or image that jumps out at the viewer within a photograph, that accident which pricks, busies me.An element which we don't simply "like" but "love." Hal Foster argues that Andy Warhols Ambulance Disaster (1963) is one of the best examples of this.

The grim double-take lacks any sense of fulfilment for the spectator demanding that they confront it for themselves. Repetition is key, trauma prevalent and it still retains an aberrant quality. There is pointed disruption in the language, constructed to make it more than a trace. Notably, Foster points out, are the tears on the bottom atrocity. Capricious and abject they punch to the gut, a galling floating flash. A rare detail that attracts your eye to an image, punctum usually exists alongside stadium but disturbs it creating an element which rises from the scene which imbues the whole image. As Barthes said, It is the element which rises from the scene, shoots out like an arrow, and pierces me. These accidental slippages or flows of the silk screen, bare a closer relationship to Jacksons first experiments in the photographic medium, shooting a photo of Diana with a shotgun. Finally, David Cameron. When asked about the prime minister she remained coy, although she has taken a straight photograph of him.  What scenarios await Dave? Is photography such a medium to do the collective imagination justice? 

Roland Barthes Camera Lucida(1980)
Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, (1967)

Hal Foster, Death in America,Andy Warhol (October, 2001)