To call Bill Jackson the L’Enfant Terrible of photography and in doing so to compare him to Jean-Arthur R, would be to make the slightest of exaggerations regarding age. However, it would arguably be entirely apposite in terms of content. For both display a sharply acute ability to slip inside of well established archetypes and forms only to almost by necessity rip those very archetypes and forms apart by doing so.
The glorious achievement of Rimbaud lay in his ability to construct poems that proffered formalistic perfection and seriousness with a very tongue in cheek attitude to content at the same time. The content poked fun at the structure, with serious implications. To thumb his front teeth at the mundanity of orthodox structures from inside its own structures; this was the foundation of the simultaneous intellectual brilliance and absurdity of the Voyelles.
And Jackson does likewise and as wittingly, in his current exhibition, Cabinet of Curiosities at Troika Editions on Farringdon Road. The series, Head, could at first glance be seen as photo-realist painting, with its careful attention to minute detail against a background of looser brushstrokes. But the nod toward De Chirico and other surrealists in the form of the actual mannequin heads and other odd elements is inspired in making the history of painting over the last 60 years eat itself in one image. For all his claims to be questioning photography (see his artist statement) I wonder if he isn’t also questioning painting, too? And, if so, all the better and all the more deeply probing for it.
All of the three series, Head, Relics, and Imaginary People, are hung in a unique way. From the clothes hanger and overlarge bulldog clip of the Lecterish Imaginary People (that would, no doubt, have delighted both Merleau Ponty and Sartre), to the intriguing forensic display of Relics, the exhibition becomes an experience in itself, an event in itself, quietly and sophisticatedly questioning both photography as a recorder of events, and the history and structure of visual communication as a medium more widely. In placing photography as a documenting medium in this wider context, Jackson engages more deeply with the conceptual questions that other photographers have tried to play with divorced from the more traditionally historical development of visual communications and its limitations. To that extent, as a viewer I feel he is asking serious questions, rather than merely constructing straw dogs just for the sake of photographing them ‘beautifully’.
But he achieves all of this without strongly proselytising. He does so without bludgeoning the point itself to the point of solipsism. He does so while keeping his sense of humour and irreverence importantly intact. It is only the true artist who can both laugh at art while engaging with it meaningfully, and Bill Jackson manages to balance his walk down that narrow path.
The exhibition is on until 30th November, 2011. And ST84Photo Blog can say, without a hint of hyperbole (but also, possibly, without the tired eyes of a cynic), that this is one of those rare and fleeting exhibitions where you either were there, or you weren’t.
If you live in or near to London, how much do you really have to lose on checking this out and spending an afternoon drifting through the layers of Bill Jackson’s crazy mind?
Standard Non-Affiliation Disclaimer Applies – To be bluntly honest, I’m not even that keen on the wine they serve. Good job the photograph are of much greater vintage…
Cabinet of Curiosities: October 5th –30th November 2011
The Front Room
96 Farringdon Road
London EC1R 3EA
020 7833 2330
Nearest Tube Stations: Kings Cross, Farringdon Road & Chancery Lane
For more information please contact Bridget or Michael on 020 7833 2330 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org