The BAFTA award-winning artist, who has carved out a stellar career thanks to her attention-grabbing images exploring celebrity culture, shows us around her web.

Artist, Alison Jackson has carved out a stellar career thanks to her attention-grabbing images which explore celebrity culture. Her clever, witty and sometimes shocking images are precision-aimed to make the viewer do a double-take. It was while a student at the world-famous Royal College of Art that her career kicked off in earnest with a single furore-stirring image: it depicted lookalikes of Diana and Dodi al Fayed with ‘their’ baby. Since it was 1999, just two years after the couple’s fatal car crash in Paris, it was, perhaps, inevitable that a national controversy would ensue. As she said, ‘I started making work about Diana as a national icon at the time of her death. Millions mourned her through her image. Most of them did not know her in person; they only ‘knew’ her through the media stories, images of her and TV. I thought I would make images of her, using a lookalike, to explore our perception of her and our fantasies about her love life.’

Yet far from being chastened by the stir it caused, it spurred her on and she has, ever since, tirelessly created works that delve into the world of celebrity, with the subject usually engaged in the banal, the shocking or the scandalous. The royal family, presidents, Hollywood A-listers, footballers, pop starlets; no one is safe from her probing gaze. Yet, while the camera may be trained upon these extremely familiar faces – and her lookalikes really are uncanny – the real subject is the audience. Why are we so obsessed with celebrity, why do we think we know these people and what makes us wish to?

This era of ‘fake news’ is a particular gift to Jackson. She is, after all, a master and trailblazer of the manipulated image, in her case created to ask questions about the way we consume information and, indeed, other people’s lives. Since media manipulation has now gone mainstream, the raw materials for her exploration are endless; she is, as she tells us, currently working on an augmented reality project.



Here, Jackson, who won a BAFTA for her BBC 2 series Doubletake, tells us why the London Black Cabbies’ WhatApp group has saved her skin more times than she cares to remember; how Jeremy Clarkson used Twitter to try and retrieve her lost Donald Trump wig; and why she owes everything to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

My Internet hero...

I know we’ve moved onto the next world disaster now, but the Naked Philanthropist was a good shake-up. As an Instagram influencer, she encouraged donations to the Australian Wildfire relief by promising to send nude pictures of herself to anyone who donated and raised nearly £1 million. Proof that we live in a photo-driven world, and if you know the right image, it can support an entire continent.

My favourite podcast...

I listen to Audible all the time. I love its biographies section as I love to know about public figures and celebrities. The ME Elton John podcast is fantastic – he talks about his difficulties and the changes that becoming a husband and father brought. It is very warm and I couldn’t stop listening. Catherine the Great, by Robert Massie is wonderful, about a woman – a German princess – who travelled to Russia aged fourteen and became arguably the most remarkable and powerful woman in history. I also love Sandi Toksvig’s very funny accounts of her memories from her bus route no 12. There are many, many others to listen to.

My favourite YouTuber...

YouTube is always an interesting one for me. My work is all about what you always imagined but a public figure would never dream of revealing – plastic surgery, sex parties, bowel movements. But even the most basic daily vlogger is happily sharing all this information for millions of paying fans. YouTube can be a force for good though, with plenty of creative young people, even if they are rediscovering old formats for a new age – people like Philip Defranco, Zac and Jay, Rhett & Link. I am also always transfixed by the five-minute tricks for make-up, cooking and other handy things.

Last book you downloaded or read...

I read Greg Jenner’s Dead Famous, a history of the idea of celebrity. I can call myself a celeb historian – my photos all depict this conscious construction, as well as, perhaps more importantly, the audience’s desire for more. This is where Greg Jenner’s work comes in. This constant construction and deconstruction over an individual and ideas of public ownership and iconography is not something that started with Diana. It goes back to the foundation of human history. Also, Boris Johnson’s The Churchill Factor, just to see if he really is like Churchill!

Favourite tweeter...

Jeremy Clarkson has to be a favourite. I lost my £15k irreplaceable Donald Trump wig just before my last theatre show. Jeremy Clarkson was so helpful in getting the word out there through Twitter and setting up an online search and rescue.

Most helpful app...

The London Black Cab WhatsApp is BRILLIANT at finding lost items in cabs, which I am always doing (not the Trump wig though sadly). But they have found irreplaceable hard drives of ‘Donald Trump’ photographs and videos, plus iPhones etc.

Favourite Instagrammer...

Jeffreestar – here's a person who knows Instagram. Each post is like candy.

Favourite tech gadget...

My selfie stick. You can instantly make yourself the centre of your own production. You become the most important person in the photo and if it looks like that in a photo, then it must be true. Other than that, my spy camera glasses. I video everything!

The most useful gadget/item on your desk...

My Large iPad. I have it with me constantly for news, pictures etc.

Most useful digital resource during lockdown...

B.S. Detector is a chrome extension which warns if you are about to click on fake news. It is always interesting when I click on my own work! I am trying to raise questions about fake news.

First thing you look at on your mobile when you wake up/in the morning...

The Customised Apple app for news headlines, which is a mix of Sky, CNN, BBC, NY Times, Washington Post, NY Post, NY Mag, celebrity news, hello and TMZ etc. Then it’s Air Mail. I also look at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s council website. I became a Councillor in 2018. I came to Chelsea when I was seventeen years old. I had no money, no education, no experience and big dreams for making art, TV, and film. Kensington and Chelsea helped me achieve that. All my education has been in Kensington and Chelsea since then: council-run night classes; Kensington and Chelsea college, which is excellent in the arts; finally moving on to do my BA at Chelsea College of Art and then my MA at the Royal College of Art. They are great schools. Plus, places like the World’s End with Vivienne Westwood and the King’s Road were so important in developing my view of the world. I want to make sure that that version of Kensington and Chelsea is still there for people today, and in the future.

Last thing you binge-watched...

Chernobyl. It’s excellent, and about another hazardous mistake that affects the whole world. It’s beautifully produced by Carolyn Strauss. I watch Larry King on Sky every 9.30am and 1.30pm lunchtime for the best news during Covid times. Another must is Andrew Pierce and Kevin Maguire, who do the News Paper Review on Sky. They are a great play off together, with one right from the Daily Mail and the other left from The Mirror. They make the news – it’s not just information but cleverly hilarious.

Also Quiz, the re-telling of how an ordinary couple tried to scam the ‘Who Want To Be A Millionaire’ TV show. Michael Sheen is brilliant as Chris Tarrant, although I would have added on a few prosthetic chins before having to do a double-take. Otherwise the likeness is pretty good. Would Sheen like to do some more Tarrant lookalike work, maybe some fake nudes? The offer is there, Michael!

Favourite brands have you discovered online...

Manolos all the time. Clergerie shoes for work – they have lots of high platform wedges that are safe to run in for work and they keep me as tall as the men (just don’t go to the shop in Walton Street though, they are too rude to buy from).

Social media allowed me to meet...

I haven’t so much met anyone through it but it’s a great way to stay in touch or get to know people, such as Joan Collins, Jeremy Clarkson, David Walliams, Trinny and Jeremy Corbyn. Interestingly, some celebs follow then quickly unfollow like Kim Kardashian or Victoria Beckham. Social media also means I can follow great photographers like Rankin and performers such as Daniel Lismore.

Also, I follow so many galleries and museums all over the world and new artists. The art world is about being constantly in-the-know and being connected. You can’t make work if you’re not continually exposed to and meeting new people. The internet speeds up that process tenfold. If I want to create an animation or a sculpture, a few clicks and I know an up-and-coming sculptor in Bulgaria, or a world-class illustrator.

The best digital advice I've been given...

To look at virtual worlds. I am working on an augmented reality project now, which is so exciting.

My screensaver is...

My photo of Donald Trump taking selfies with KKK members and a burning cross. This was the most scared I ever was in creating a photo. We snuck into Richmond Park very late at night to stage this mock rally and I was sure we were going to be lynched. But then I realised, we were probably the most terrifying thing there! The photo spread very well online and had to be officially debunked by Snopes. I got the picture sent back to me on the socials saying, ‘Alison download this NOW before they take it down!’ Damien Hirst retweeted it around the globe for me – thanks Damien (I have never met him for real, only online).

My standout online memory...

This period of Covid is as big as 9/11 in terms of the emotional impression and as a disaster in my living memory. The terrible hospital scenes are etched in my mind forever just as the falling twin towers are.

My pet online hate is...

The one thing I love is the easy access to everything: info, knowledge, people, arts, everything. But that’s the very thing I hate also – the endless quantities of material. But I wouldn’t swap it back in time.

Do you have any online rules or resolutions (such as a time your religiously switch off devices, for example?)

I am online at all times – always switched on.

The Internet. On balance, a force for good or ill?

It’s fantastic! We live in a completely visual world dominated by screens full of secret codes and flashy pictures, and unlike text, everyone can read an image. However, this does also mean that the knowledge of how to use it for bad is far easier to grasp, or even accidentally fall into.

By Nancy Alsop
June 2020

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Nancy Alsop

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