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Jill Magid: Closet Drama / MATRIX 237

March 20, 2011 - June 12, 2011

Jill Magid: The Sky From the Capitol Steps, 2010; digital photograph; courtesy of the artist and Yvon Lambert, Paris, New York.

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

Jill Magid seeks platforms for acting inside and outside of institutions, responding to their imposition, negotiation, and, at times, capitulation of power. For Magid, this power isn’t a remote condition to contest, but rather something to manipulate, by drawing it closer, exploiting its loopholes, engaging it in dialogue, seducing its agents, revealing its sources, infiltrating its structure, repeating its logic. She creates these exchanges with power by attaching to it on an individual scale, finding her way in personally through introduction or invitation, or more abstractly though intensive research, assuming the noncontradictory but differentiated roles of woman, artist, professional, scholar, journalist, writer, and subject. She has engaged in collaborations with police officers in New York, Liverpool, and Amsterdam to intervene in their systems of surveillance and security, by reversing, highlighting, or replacing their own scrutiny with her own.

Most visibly, in 2005 the Dutch Secret Service (AIVD) hired Magid as an artist-in-residence, ironically charged with showing the human face of an institution of secrecy, invisibility, private information, and public fictions. Over the course of four years, Magid embedded herself in the institution, interviewing agents, undergoing training, and researching its policies, to understand the institution from the inside out, resulting in a years-long process of generation, negotiation, redaction, and ultimately the confiscation of related artworks. Through each iteration, Magid used the ongoing process of revelation and censorship through official channels as fodder for the work itself, which ultimately takes form as the novel Becoming Tarden, where Magid uses the only tools remaining to her to convey her experiences through fact and anecdote—her own words in their presence and their redaction.

This engagement with systems, institutions, and power has led to Magid’s more recent work, which engages the written word and its use as an agent of control, manipulation, and distortion. A Reasonable Man in a Box concerns the Bybee Memo (more commonly known as the Torture Memos), a controversial set of documents outlining legal methods of “enhanced interrogation,” produced by the Attorney General’s office in 2002 and declassified in 2009. Despite the specificity of its legal terminology, the memo illustrates the instability of language, its malleability evidenced by the multivalence of interpretation and the gaps in translating word into action.

Magid’s commission for MATRIX likewise has its roots in present-day events as they intersect with governmental power. While on a research trip, Magid witnessed a mysterious shooting on the steps of the Texas State Capitol by Fausto Cardenas. Nothing is known of Cardenas’s motivations, but his gesture of shooting into the sky on the steps of the capitol, where he knew he would be immediately captured, reads symbolically as both tragic and poetic. Magid connects his action to Faust, an obvious but ultimately fruitful and complex avenue of exploration, as Goethe’s nineteenth-century drama traffics in similar themes of tragedy, psychology, and futility. Goethe originally wrote Faust as a “closet drama” (a kind of intimate reading that functions as a theater of the mind), and Magid’s MATRIX exhibition takes the form of a stage for its reading. Goethe’s text figures prominently in the exhibition as an ongoing sound and performance work as well as a series of silkscreens, which together form a sort of infiltration into the text and its many translations, engaging the larger themes of truth and fiction, language and translation, history and legend, gesture and performance, revelation and redaction, individual and institution.

Elizabeth Thomas
Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator

The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is made possible by a generous endowment gift from Phyllis C. Wattis, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the continued support of the BAM/PFA Trustees.

Magid's exhibition is a co-commission with Arthouse at the Jones Center in Austin, Texas.