October 2008, Alison Jackson @ the Liverpool Biennial


 Alison Jackson, (c) the artist, courtesy Hamiltons Gallery London.

Alison Jackson at the Liverpool Biennial
Through November 30, 2008

Artist Alison Jackson and singer Amy Winehouse were arrested at Newcastle airport on Saturday. The unlikely pair were held in a police cell whilst Amy’s beehive was searched for drugs and other suspicious substances. Jackson and Winehouse were released when police realized it was not the troubled star, but a look-alike hired by Jackson to feature in a film made especially for a FACT screening during the Liverpool Biennial. BAFTA winning film-maker and photographer Jackson creates paparazzi style images of contemporary politicians, royals, actors and rock stars, using look-alikes in carefully crafted set ups. A Jackson photograph gives the viewer a backstage pass to the lives of celebrities, simulating an imaginary behind the scenes scenario such as ‘The Queen’ on the toilet, ‘David Beckham’ posing in front of the mirror in American Football gear, ‘Paris Hilton’ bribing a prison inmate or ‘Jack Nicholson’ on a fun slide with some topless groupies. Jackson has also created a hyper-real sculpture of George Bush for the Liverpool Biennial. Visitors to Tate Liverpool have been amused and bemused by the spectacle of the President of the United States of America sitting in the Café, trying to figure out a rubix cube. Only when they get up close and personal with the politician do they realize that it is a painstakingly sculpted likeness of Bush, down to the creases in the skin and the graying hair follicles.

Jackson's FACT film about being an Amy Winehouse look-alike is an exploration of street culture meeting museum pop culture, and the blurred boundaries between real and fake. Jackson and her ‘Amy’ were en route to Camden Town in London to find out if the real Amy was at home. Then on to have a few drinks in Amy’s regular watering hole, and see if the locals were convinced about her authenticity. Eventually they met up with two other ‘Amy’s’ and more chaos ensued. I caught up with Jackson and asked her a few questions about the Liverpool Biennial, and about the creation of her signature style.
 

 Alison Jackson, (c) the artist
 courtesy Hamiltons Gallery London.


 
Alison Jackson, (c) the artist, courtesy Hamiltons Gallery London.
 
LJ:
What was the reaction to the Amy Winehouse look-alike in Liverpool?

AJ:
Liverpool was great and the people very friendly. Even the Police asked if ‘Amy’ was OK when they saw her passed out on a park bench, not realizing that she was acting the part of the inebriated singer, and wasn’t the real thing. When we got to Newcastle things deteriorated when we had trouble at the airport because 'Amy' didn't resemble her passport photo. We were detained and put in a cell. ‘Amy’ was later strip-searched and her beehive was wrecked!

LJ:
You had 3 Amy Winehouse look-alikes together at the end of the evening. Was there any squabbling between them?

AJ:
Yes! A hierarchy developed between them where one look-alike took control, and one of the other ‘Amy’s’ complained “She really thinks she is Amy!” One of the fake Amy’s managed to convince the public in the real Amy’s neighbourhood that she was the genuine article, and that was taken a stage further when she acted like ‘Amy the Diva’ towards the other two look-alikes.


 
Alison Jackson, (c) the artist, courtesy Hamiltons Gallery London.


 
Alison Jackson, (c) the artist
 courtesy Hamiltons Gallery London.

LJ:
So what was the artistic purpose of the exercise?

AJ:
The concept of the Amy film for FACT, the Bush sculpture for Tate Liverpool and of my work in general is to blur the boundaries between the real and the fake. In my work I try to trick the viewer into thinking that what they see is real, and take it a stage further by exploring whether the viewer even cares if what they see is the actual celebrity, or if they are equally happy with a replica.

LJ:
Have you had any experiences of people thinking the look-alikes are real celebrities?

AJ:
Yes several! I took my Beckham look-alike to Japan and he was mobbed by screaming fans, all convinced it was Beckham. Even when I said he wasn’t really Beckham, some of the female fans still wanted to jump into bed with him. On another occasion I was with my Richard Gere Look-alike in a restaurant in New York, and women were coming up and sitting seductively on his lap, thinking it was the sexy Hollywood Actor. When he told one ‘fan’ that he wasn’t actually Richard Gere, she was nonplussed and didn’t seem to care. In other words the ‘fan’ found the look-alike as alluring as the real actor, because he looked the same and looks can deceive.


 
Alison Jackson, (c) the artist, courtesy Hamiltons Gallery London.


 
Alison Jackson, (c) the artist, courtesy Hamiltons Gallery London.

LJ: Why did you decide to create a sculpture for the Liverpool Biennial and not more photographs?


AJ:
I trained as a Sculptor at Chelsea College of Art before taking an MA in Fine Art Photography at the RCA, so I was originally a sculptor, and I wanted to apply the philosophy of my photographs to sculpture by creating a hyper real figure designed to confuse the viewer of its authenticity.

LJ:
So what made you interested in the Cult of Celebrity?

AJ: As a student at the RCA I was definitely inspired by Andy Warhol, and the way his prediction that everybody would have fifteen minutes of fame was so eerily prophetic.


 Alison Jackson, (c) the artist, courtesy Hamiltons Gallery London.


 Alison Jackson, (c) the artist
 courtesy Hamiltons Gallery London.

LJ: Yes, in fact it was in 1968 that Warhol said: ‘In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes”. And he later reiterated his statement in 1979 by saying “My prediction from the sixties finally came true: In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes”. So you think Warhol was a kind of Nostradamus of the art world?

AJ: Effectively yes, what Warhol predicted has become a reality. We live in an image-obsessed world where reality TV shows like Big Brother and trashy magazines filled with paparazzi shots of celebrities with no make up or doing the shopping dominate the media. In the last century we were bombarded by imagery in the form of film, TV and photography. In this century the web cam, CCTV, the phone camera and the Internet mean we inhabit a universe packed with images of questionable authenticity.

LJ: But images of questionable authenticity have been exposed many times in the past. For example in Russian propaganda when Stalin used photo retouching to edit Trotsky out of a photograph of him giving a speech to Soviet troops. Or in more recent times when a 2005 Newsweek cover documenting Martha Stewart’s release from prison, placed her face on a thinner woman’s body to imply that she has lost weight during her stint in prison. Image manipulation has become even more prevalent with the invention of photoshop which dominates every glossy magazine and presents readers with a digitally enhanced image of platonic perfection. Is this phenomenon something you comment on in your work?

AJ: Yes I have commented on the manipulation of the image since my degree show at the RCA. For my graduate exhibition I created a photograph of a Princess Diana lookalike with a Dodi doppelgänger and their imaginary mixed race love child. (Di, Dodi and Baby (1997)). It caused a lot of controversy, and I wasn’t allowed to show it as Prince Philip was opening the exhibition. Really what I was trying to do was explore the myth of Diana created through images of her. I wanted to examine the power of her image, which was so iconic as to be almost saintly. The way the nation mourned the death of Diana was on a parallel with religious devotion towards Saints, and the laying of flowers at Kensington Palace a kind of contemporary pilgrimage. I felt that the reaction to my Di, Dodi & Baby was almost racist, in the way people objected to seeing a mixed race heir to the throne, even though the entire scenario was imaginary, it provoked intense feelings in people.


 Alison Jackson, Di, Dodi and Baby, 1997, (c) the artist
 courtesy Hamiltons Gallery London.

LJ:
So do you see contemporary Royals, Actors and Pop stars as a kind of modern-day version of Saints?

AJ:
Indeed, I think celebrities are the new folk religion. My work is a series of simulations that momentarily substitute the ‘real’ by creating a temporary confusion with the use of look-alikes. I had an exhibition this year at Hamiltons Gallery in London called Seeing is Deceiving, which featured ‘Beckham’, ‘Simon Cowell’, ‘Amy Winehouse’, ‘Tom Cruise’, ‘The Brangelinas’ and ‘David Beckham’, but this time there were some real celebrities thrown in the mix including a well-known fashion designer and world famous musician. I was interested in seeing how far I can go with my deception, and whether anyone could tell the real celebrities from the pretenders!

Jackson’s sculpture of George Bush can be seen at Tate Liverpool as part of the Liverpool Biennial until 30 November (www.biennial.com). Jackson is represented by Hamiltons Gallery in London and M+B Gallery in Los Angeles.


Lee Johnson is a London-based critic, Artist Project Manager and PR. Lee graduated from University College London and Bologna University in History of Art & Italian. Lee began her career at Sotheby's, and went on to the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Timothy Taylor Gallery. Lee is now a freelance Project Manager and Publicist for Artists including Alison Jackson and Sacha Newley. Lee also writes regulary for Kultureflash and Art India magazine, and is a Contributor to Saatchi online TV.

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