The Jackson Twins are voices of fantastic reason PDF
Written by (Interview) Blacklash*   

The Jackson Twins are best described in their own words:

“Our work pays particular focus to ‘the twin’, what it is to be an identical being – to in essence, share an identity with your double. We explore the worldwide fascination with twins: in terms of the pop culture fixation of the ‘evil-twin’, the depths of the twin in folklore (the doppelganger) and the themes explored through psychology and psychoanalysis (nature versus nurture, ESP, Frued and Rank’s theories, etc). We aim to take advantage of the visual power – the awkwardness, the lack of fit and belonging, the freakish feel – of the twin motif. Within the performance of our self-portraits we illustrate the relevance of such an evocative motif in the context of a culture still fixated on the individual.”




This writer is yet to meet an artist or artistic collaboration so succinct and yet poetic and revealing about their approach to their practice. In a recent interview with BLACKLASH after meeting the boys at Sydney harbour by night, The Jackson Twins revealed just enough about their internal organs to reconfigure our focus back to their skins. With every work they make they shed a skin or show the skeleton of an identity they have explored from their unique world-view as myogenic twins…




  • Who was born first?


Karl was born first, Ian followed about 45 minutes later!


  • Do you think that makes any difference to your self-identification because of the meaning people place on your answer?


You see, although that is our immediate answer, we always believe that we were born at the same time – the time the egg split. We understand that there was a natural order (of ‘birth’) but we have never seen it as a reflection on our self-identification. Perhaps on some subconscious level it does make a difference but it is nothing that we have calculated.


  • There was a piece you did about Christmas presents in 2003 from the year of your graduation. It was interesting to see physical acts of adornment as exterior ideas of your identities. So much of your work starts at this core theme. Was there a pivotal moment in your childhood that opened your eyes to outside perceptions of your personal differences?


We’re not sure that many people were able to make that connection, certainly during our childhood. We were always referred to as ‘the twins’ and we think people liked the ease and, ironically, the uniqueness of that. There’s also the novelty factor in the perception of two individuals as one unit (this is something we maximise upon in our practice).

Maybe it was the later years of high school where people started to play a game where they picked out our individual traits; one of us being more reserved and thoughtful, and therefore the ‘good-twin’, and the other being more outspoken, and therefore the ‘evil-twin’. Even still, this was us as individual twins, rather than individuals per say.


  • I’m assuming Ian, you were outspoken and Karl you were more reserved, but maybe that’s too easy... What was the best/worst pay out you guys got from school?


We think the best pay out was these labels – people assume that the label sticks and maybe forget that we can swap the good and bad personas! That made for a lot of fun. Possibly the worst pay out is that we often got fragmented conversations. That is to say that people assumed that if they had spoken to one of us, the other would automatically know and be aware of that, so they would continue a conversation with you that they had never had.


  • The dungeon imagery, I’m guessing correlates, to the self-imprisonment people’s notion of identity can be for themselves. What are some of the other key symbols that you employ in your work?


We aim for each piece to ooze symbolism, sometimes subtle, other times not so much. Harmony and discord, and indeed duality in general, inform the symbolism that we use. The boys in The perception of play never crossed their minds (self portrait 38) are locked in a closet, but have a captive audience, so therefore questions of control and manipulation can be asked. Attraction; passion; jealousy; instincts she tried to hide (self portrait 50) employs symbols of both beauty and decay, of primal savagery and sensual seduction.


We also enjoy the idea of mask-wearing; an identity which is really a façade. Uncaged, yet embraced by the beautiful tension (self portrait 52) employs this idea quite blatantly within the character but we also scatter the Noh masks within her surroundings, so that her scenario is observed by other false personas. The caged imagery – the birdcages, tethers on the bird’s feet and her costume all reflect that imprisonment you mention.


  • Its rare to encounter artists with such articulate self-awareness. Are you worried you’re giving too much away?


No, we are not worried because we almost see artwork in the sense that you can never give too much away. A viewer will usually take away from a piece of artwork what they want rather than what the artist intends. We like the fact that we can include so much symbolism and imagery within our work – we are subtly revealing ourselves or feelings, but will never be fully exposed.


  • Jean Genet’s “The Maids” (1947) is loosely based on the infamous incestuous Papin sisters, who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in a tale of the beautiful and the damned. In it he describes a boudoir scene as “the most extraordinary combination of luxury and filth”. What foundation is your mis-en-scene derived from?


Actually, our foundation is very similar to Genet’s in this respect. The duality is integral to our work, particularly in The Cataclysmic Accounts of the Binary Institute. It is important to us that each piece can be seen as seductive to the senses and yet also allows room for repulsion or a darker interpretation. This idea of attraction and caution excites us.


  • What else excites each of you?


In terms of artwork anything relating to interpretation excites us both. We like the fact that we can say so much in an image without actually verbalizing our thoughts. We can lace an image with symbols that are important to us but the audience wont necessarily pick-up on all of them. That excites us…again, revealing without feeling exposed.


Metamorphosis is exciting to us, just the idea of changing our appearance to address different aspects of our inner-selves feels very liberating.


On a surface level lots of things excite us. Good conversations, wonderful people, good wine…you name it!


  • Costuming and role-play are integral to your practice. Can you offer any insight into how they help you realise your characters?


We take a long time to conceive the characters, so that they fit the archetype for the scenario, yet still remain extensions of ourselves. The costumes and make up have became more important to our work as we have progressed, as it allows us to fully immerse ourselves within the role, therefore performing the identity rather than just looking like the initial idea.


  • When exactly do you find yourself feeling like an albino skinhead lord-type taking tea in the garden of your castle of doom?


He is us when we are taking it ‘on the chin with a grin’, doing the daily rituals amidst the chaos! He’s also that fake smile that we think everyone puts on from time-to-time to get through the craziness. We make the characters to address elements of our fancy. A Victorian/Gothic based ‘English-man’ is very much us on certain days.


  • What are the tools of your trade?


Our practice is a combination of performance and photography. To do our ideas justice, it is important that we have a high definition digital SLR camera, convincing stage sets, props, wigs, make-up and digital editing software to enhance the final image. Research and extensive planning play a major part as well and act as the catapult that gets the entire process underway.


  • How much manipulation is applied to the images?


We use digital editing to enhance the overall aesthetic of the work, mainly to control lighting, shadows and to emphasise the key points in each piece. Manipulation is a very important development within the photographic art world, as it allows the artist to fully gain control of how the image looks, much like a paintbrush. Elements of performance are essential to our work, so we take care to make sure that the manipulation doesn’t take over the work…everything you see is us.


  • You make it sound like you’re defending manipulation as if it’s somehow cheating. Why the raw nerve?


We guess our response is not so much a defense as much a correction of misuse. A lot of people assume that the image would be completely manipulated. Despite our artist name we have had people wonder (before they meet us) whether there really are two of us or just the one person manipulated onto the same scene. We actually do not need to do that – we are our own ‘special-effect’ in that way.


  • Is the sentiment still present from this series or have you abandoned it like an old snakeskin now that you’re sketching out a new project for 2010?


Parts of the sentiment remain in each project. Our work is autobiographical to the point that we can draw upon things we have experienced as ‘the twins’ and build the work around that. We like the fact that it can also be interpreted into wider subject matters. The next project looks at a different dimension of the twin, but it will still be infused by our own experiences.


  • Have you ever thought about doing stuff alone?


We used to work individually prior to the collaboration and it became incredibly difficult to keep the work separated, both in terms of look and content. We would never stop each other from making separate work but we both enjoy being ‘The Jackson Twins’. Making our work together gives us a sense of fulfillment and strength in an artistic sense and personally as the work is biographical. We enjoy addressing this bond in a joint nature, particularly as it is something that only the two of us can share.


  • How did you get involved with FotoFest 2010?


We won the chance to attend this year’s Fotofest through a bursary scheme with Rhubarb-Rhubarb, an incredibly supportive photography development agency who now represent us. We had an incredible year in 2009 with our artwork; international exhibitions, representation, portfolio reviews… this opportunity is the icing on the cake.


  • And a big congratulation to you- you clearly both work very hard and it shows. Your practice is extremely involved. Who was your greatest inspiration on the technical side?


It would be hard to pinpoint one single inspiration. Seeing the work of Cindy Sherman made us realize that we can express our ideas successfully while using a camera. The work of the artist Mariko Mori deepened that sentiment.


Another technicality is work ethic and we have met many people who have encouraged us to push forward.


  • The titles from this series such as “confined to his agony, he lulled himself into oblivion” references one individual rather than both of you. Or does it? Who are you referring to?

The ambiguity of the titles is important. We wanted them to reference literature, to act as faux-quotes. We enjoy the idea of ‘the twin’ as a metaphor – maybe what you see is one person, split, battling his personal inner demons? We also like the fact that we could be referring to the viewer within the titles…placing the viewer within the conflict, forcing them to actively participate in our work, which is one reason that we present our role plays through photography as opposed to video work; we want the viewer to construct the narrative. Maybe whilst doing this it can raise deeper points of identity and individuality that extends outside of our twin-ness?


  • Without a doubt. How do you each take your coffee?


It depends on the day’s events. A flat white when things are okay. A cappuccino, or a latte with skimmed milk, when we have a lot on!


  • You’re kind of like a “super-self” in that you’re able to more fruitfully articulate the joys and anxieties of being oneself, as well as the alternative, in tandem with the closest equivalent of yourselves. Do you see this as an advantage over the rest of us?


Maybe in terms of the artwork we see it as an advantage, as it can give us a wealth of view points to work from, whether it be our own personal experiences, history, mythology or psychology – twinship is something that has fascinated many people for such a long time. It’s also appealing as we can use twinship to examine further subjects such as nature versus nurture and human behaviour. In general terms, we are not sure we would state it as an advantage but it is certainly a plus to have someone constantly providing support and motivation, and it always helps give us a sense of self-awareness.


  • There is an old poetic notion that the self is conceived whole and then split, destined to wander and struggle until he finds his match. Donne especially references this notion as the hermaphrodite. Do you consider yourselves a double-dicked whole self, split in two, or do you have another take?


That’s a very interesting notion. We both feel that the self is made up of multiple dualities: good and evil, positive and negative, passive and aggressive and so on. Being twins we feel that we help give each other a sense of self-awareness that maybe takes other people longer to find. We don’t complete each other by any means but there is a self-understanding that we acknowledge from our twinship. This is where our interest in expressing these dualities stems from.


  • You battle out the public and private personas of twinhood. What parts of your private selves can we see in these hyperbolic characters?


The characters are born from aspects of ourselves. They may initially be a reaction to things people have said or to something we have seen, but we still like to include as much of ourselves in the characters as possible. Much like the symbolism we choose, we can display different aspects of our private personas within the works as we feel fit. We satisfy a very general aspect of our private selves within the work by dramatically changing how we look. This satisfies a curiosity that we both have and helps us achieve a sense of liberation.


  • When did you start playing dress ups and what were your favourite outfits as children?


We actually started playing dress up aged twenty – so relatively late! We always wore a uniform throughout schools – right the way through to the end of high school. We think we liked the uniform idea as it gave us a sense of fit, however this is something that we seem to be battling against in our masquerading through the artwork. This is something that we will address further in our artwork.


  • What’s your father like?


He was always the ‘strict parent’. We get on great with him now and one childhood memory that we both hold is watching him paint. We think that it was maybe our father that got us interested in art in the first place.


  • Do you believe a person can occupy more than one identity?


Yes. Everyone takes on different roles throughout the day and changes their ‘identities’ depending on whom they are with or what they are doing. That is why the subject of identity is so universal and important. We choose to examine this subject through our own personal identity crisis but it is a subject that extends far beyond our situation.


  • Do you think you can help people going through identity crisis with your work?


People do struggle with their identity and we guess we are publicly doing that within the artwork. Maybe by raising points of our own identity/identities we can encourage others to do the same? This may not necessarily help those people going through an identity crisis but maybe there are elements within the work that they can relate to.


  • You have a quintessentially British genre of humour running through your work, did any contemporary comedians influence you?


There are lots of comedians that we consider to be influential, in particular those with a real dark twist, such as Julia Davis or the guys behind ‘The League of Gentlemen’.


  • I don’t care how wrong it is, Julia makes crippling the crippled and disturbing the disturbed more funny than God. And I had a sneaking suspicion about the League boys… You are so deliciously filthy funny! Do you make each other laugh a lot?


Yes! Humour is essential but none more so than being able to laugh at yourself, or in our case, ourselves.


  • Your work has a macabre element; some of your characters look like breathing corpses. How would you feel if one of you was left behind by death?


This is something that we cannot comprehend. We have a very close bond to the point of similar thought patterns. Having lived this joint identity for 29 years, from here on out we will both always be ‘The Jackson Twins’ regardless of how many of us are standing.


  • That’s really beautiful. I think your work helps eternalise that bond too. How long do photographic prints last, in archival terms?


A printer informs us that archival prints are guaranteed for 100 years, past this, who knows? We would like to think of our artwork lasting forever.


  • You are clearly so very in tune, but also fiercely individual. What is the division of labour in your creative process?


The process is completely mutual. From the conception of the idea behind the piece to the final output, it is passed between us so much and digested completely by The Jackson Twins that we find it almost impossible to determine which parts are ‘Karl’ and which parts are ‘Ian’. This synergy keeps us prolific.


  • What are you each reading at the moment?


At the moment Ian is reading Jamaica Inn by Daphne De Maurier and Karl is reading When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. A nice combination of dark and humorous.


  • Who reads faster?


That depends on the book, but in general terms it’s usually Karl.


  • Who runs faster?


Again that depends – on who we are running after or away from! Probably Ian.


  • Do you split your real-life wardrobe?


Yes! It’s wonderful as we each have twice as many clothes that way.


  • You have a strong foothold in a theatrical aesthetic. What is/are your favourite play(s) and/ or production(s)?


We love Shakespeare’s work and living near Stratford-upon-Avon we have good access to the Royal Shakespeare Company. Hamlet, Macbeth, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are probably our real favourites. Another production company we respect is Punch Drunk and their production of Masque of the Red Death was absolutely compelling.


  • The ambiguous nature of your narratives is so compelling- you make us try to fill in the gaps between what is not said and what is said so clearly. Does each image you create have a full story you’re holding back?


When we make the work we have a loose narrative in mind but we really enjoy the idea that the audience creates the story. Therefore we surrender our initial narrative as soon as the piece is complete; we want the artwork to become moments from a story – the viewer’s interpretation of what we give them. That’s where the real drama can happen.


  • What is the most off-putting interpretation of your work from the public?


When people dismiss the work based on the medium. Luckily it doesn’t happen too often, but this is off-putting as it shows disregard for photography and also shows a lack of engagement with the content of the work.


  • Has anyone ever accused you of incest (in your work)?


We haven’t been directly accused of this but the ‘close bond’ has been commented on a couple of times. This is so funny to us though and shows that perhaps the narratives running through those people’s minds are maybe darker than ours!


  • How does partnership outside of your twinhood work?


It’s a different bond, a very separate thing. Outside partnerships enable us as individuals to have very different experiences from each other, which undoubtedly filter through to our artist relationship, allowing us to bring different things to the table. In general terms, any partner has to be very understanding of the twin relationship and realise that we will be making artwork together for a long time to come. What can be potentially difficult is the fact that we have a deep bond that circumvents separate relationships…it is like living a secret life—the relationship that we choose and the one that was chosen for us biologically.

Of course they also need to be very forgiving of our extended wardrobe.


*BLACKLASH is a lorgnette upon cultural happenings in Sydney and beyond by Clementine Blackman.



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