Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Jill Magid- Authority to Remove at Tate Modern

Becoming Tarden, 2009

Earlier in the week I was killing some time at London Bridge before meeting family for dinner and decided to wonder along the river. Naturally I headed towards Tate Modern, my favourite place to while away an afternoon. As I didn’t have much time I wasn’t planning to pop into an exhibition, I just wanted to have a look at some of my favourite pieces in the main collections by the likes of Picasso, Duchamp, Cezanne and Richard Long. On my way in I stumbled across the Jill Magid 'Authority to Remove' exhibition which was located in the level 2 gallery.

What I enjoyed most about this compelling exhibition other than discovering a new artist was that it worked as a great insight into the Dutch Secret Service, the AIVD. In 2005, Jill was commissioned by the AIVD (De Algemene Inlichtingen en Veiligheidsdienst) to create an artwork for their new headquarters which was a result of a stipulation under Dutch law that a portion of the budget for the new building be spent on an art commission. Whilst the entire exhibition was a document of Jill’s project, because of how highly all the work had been censored it felt more like an exhibition of a spy’s journal or something similarly controversial and as I wondered round the small space I really felt a sense of secrecy and that Magid had been silenced– very strange.

I Can Burn Your Face: Miranda III, 2008

The brief from the AIVD was to 'find the human face of the organisation'. Instructed to work only with agents who had volunteered to participate, the artist set about recruiting her subjects with an alluring infomercial broadcast on the agency's intranet. Arranging meetings via a third party fixer, Magid met with her subjects in impersonal locations – restaurants, bars, airport meeting points – and began gathering information from a selection of agents. As part of the commission, she proposed to write a report based on these encounters, to be made publicly available, combining personal details of the individual agents she met into a collective persona of the AIVD. Forbidden from using recording equipment during her encounters, she kept handwritten notes from which she created a series of artworks including neons, sculptures, prints and drawings.

Vetting Box, 2008

The resulting 2008 exhibition Article 12 at Stroom gallery in The Hague marked the official end of Magid's commission. Exhibiting the project publicly was to be an inversion of the surveillance duties of the agency: during the exhibition the public could scrutinise the institution rather than vice versa. The day before the opening, the AIVD sent a group of agents to the gallery to approve the work. Before they left, Magid handed them a draft of her manuscript so that they could remove any information that might compromise her sources' identities. Upon reading the manuscript, the agents came back, after the show had already opened, to confiscate a number of artworks.

By this time, Magid had returned to America. The heavily edited manuscript was delivered to her in Brooklyn by a representative from the Dutch Embassy in Washington. Magid arranged for the handover of the document to be captured by a hidden photographer, adopting The Organization's own tactics. In the redacted text, some of the artist's descriptions of her own thoughts and feelings had been removed in addition to 'potentially sensitive' information given to her by her sources.

I Can Burn Your Face, 2008

Unable to publish the remaining fragments of the text as a coherent novel, Magid protested against this censorship of her own memories. In their letter of July 17 2009, the AIVD suggested that she 'present the manuscript as a visual work of art in a one-time-only exhibition, after which it would become the property of the Dutch government and not be published'. The present exhibition enacts this request. In Authority to Remove Magid explores what it means to have a secret but not the autonomy to share it. She has taken the title from the official Tate form that would need to be completed and signed were her book to be confiscated. By adhering to the rules laid out by the Dutch secret service, Magid intends for this exhibition to constitute the end of her performance, the surrendering of her authorship to The Organization.

1 comment:

  1. my sister went to see this a few days ago AND SHE CANNOT STOP RAVING ABOUT IT. Guess I'm spening my weekend at the tate new week!

    MM x