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issue 39 - August/September 2017
CURVE magazine cover August/September 2017
Push  Art  

NATURAL PHENOMENA

Mankind's Intoxication with Nature: The Works of Thomas Jackson Fuse Fascination and Fear

Thomas Jackson's Emergent Behavior shows us the incredible, sometimes fearful way in which animals move, swarm and engage with nature. Termite mounds, swarms of locusts, flocks of birds and more tap into humankind's fascination and, occasionally, deepest worries, about the natural world. Jackson's installations feature materials and components that appear out of place and that often jar with the image the artist presents to the public. A strange collection, one that contrasts the natural world with that of mankind's, often disposable, creations, Emergent Behavior is a series that inspires more than a little thought.

How did you come to love photography as an art form?
I was passionate about photography as a teenager and as a young adult. At 15, my camera was among my most prized possessions, and the photography classes I took in high school and college stand out today as bright spots in my otherwise checkered academic life. But being an artist never occurred to me as a career choice. I wanted to be a writer and an editor, and I pursued that goal throughout my 20s and most of my 30s. All manner of photobooks hit my desk, and little by little my dormant passion for photography was reawakened. Andrew Moore's Russia was a big eye opener, as were Gregory Crewdson's Beneath the Roses and Richard Misrach's On the Beach. Before long I'd picked up a camera again and started a string of classes at the International Center of Photography, and when the magazine job went south I didn't have to think hard about what to do next.

Where did your inspiration come from for Emerging Behavior?
My original idea for the series was not swarms at all, but to build and photograph sculptures made from stuff I found lying on the ground in both urban and natural locations. I quickly realized that I could only get so far with cigarette butts, crushed Coke cans, and the sticks and leaves I'd find in the forest. I saw what I hadn't noticed before: they were swarms. After that I made a few images depicting plant matter swarming in urban environments, but the approach that really seemed to click was to do the inverse: man made objects in nature.

Tell us about Emergent Behavior, what is your process?
My current working process was born from The Robot Series, which was shot on a piece of property I used to own in the Catskill mountains. Up there I could do all manner of inadvisable things without asking anyone's permission. I could suspend objects from trees, dig holes, light stuff on fire, set off pyrotechnics and otherwise experiment freely on a grand scale. By the time Emergent Behavior was underway, which I'd decided to shoot in more varied landscapes, I had developed a system that is more or less unchanged today. The difference now is that most of the shoots I do are on public land where a permit is required, which has forced me to become more of a planner than I'm generally inclined to be. I will make sketches, and if possible I'll visit a location multiple times before the day of a shoot. Often I'll construct parts of the sculpture in my studio beforehand. But no matter how much I think things through in advance, this is fundamentally an improvisational process, shaped by unforeseen weather conditions and my own capricious nature.

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