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In October 1999, Jill Magid performed Lobby 7 in the main entrance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Positioned in front of a suspended, closed circuit TV monitor that is used to transmit informational messages about the events of the day, and wearing baggy cargo pants and an oversized sweater, she used a small hand-held surveillance camera to explore those parts of her body that she could reach through the openings in her clothing. She also was broadcasting the intimate, black-and-white images she created of her own body on the monitor, which she had illegally appropriated for he own use. As the curious gathered to watch, an assistant filmed the event from a balcony above; Magid states that after this event, she was at once “stronger and yet more vulnerble.”i
In the spring of 2000, Magid and another female performer did a similar performance at Harvard University’s Science Center; this time the surveillance camera was built into a pair of shoes they took turns wearing. This event was part of Magid’s Monitoring Desire, her thesis project for her Masters of Science degree in Visual Studies from MIT. In the paper she submitted for her degree project, Magid clearly stated what she wished to do with her work in the future:
…I am, as you are, always under surveillance. Consciously or not, we constantly perform for the camera’s eye. …My relationship with the apparatus of capture has become intimate, and through this intimacy, my boundaries more fluid.…The potential of this performative surveillance system in terms of how the body is reconfigured, how representation is altered and effected, how architecture is activated and warped, and how we mediate communication through its screen-has only been initially explored with this performance. I feel prepared to re-enter the conceptual parameters of this performance in order to break them apart. To take their varied aspects and develop them each into new, highly focused, artistic investigations. ii
Magid has done just what she set out to do. In works such as Evidence Locker, created for the 2004 Liverpool Biennial, Magid again appropriated a closed circuit television system for her own purposes usurping City Watch of Liverpool’s 224 CCTV cameras. She used their operators as a movie crew to help her to make her own film and to provide her a starring role in it.
Evidence Locker takes its place in a long history of artistic wanderings, ranging from those of the 19th-century flaneur to the Surrealists and Situationists. This history also includes the many artists who have taken to the streets since the 1960’s and ‘70s: Yayoi Kusama, Vito Acconci, Adrian Piper, Valie Export, Sophie Calle, and Kimsooja are just a few who come to mind. However, while those artists generally sought interaction with, or reaction from, their fellow pedestrians, in Evidence Locker Magid has eyes only for the “eyes” that are trained on her. Dressed in red to make her easier to spot, all of her attention is focused on seducing the camera to follow her. It is as if the fleeting reactions of strangers cannot offer her the permanent, validating evidence of her own existence that surveillance footage can.
Under the British Data Protection Act, Magid was entitled to see any surveillance film in which she was featured. She turned official “Subject Access Request Forms” into love letters she addressed to “the Observer”–eventually breaking through the wall of technology and bureaucracy to establish real relationships with human beings on the other side. In time, the Observer not only talks Magid safely through a busy city square with her eyes closed, but she rides off with him on the back of a motorcycle. iii
In Magid’s 1999 thesis paper, she also stated, “I believe there is both a psychological and political value in reconstructing one’s representation with the aid of technological systems.”iv In her new works Magid takes inspiration from Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 film L’Avventura, and uses a variety of means to construct images of her absent self. In Antonioni’s groundbreaking film, the protagonist Anna takes a trip with her lover and her good friend, but disappears shortly after the film begins. As the lover and friend search for her, they start an affair and at times seem to have forgotten about Anna. They fail to find either her or the reason for her disappearance, but they cannot escape her influence or their own guilt. Antonioni’s use of narrative was confounding to audiences of the time: he failed to follow up on minor characters, and the plot twists he introduced did little to advance the storyline.
In her new series of work, Magid had forensic portraits made of her based on the intimate descriptions of various witnesses for a work titled Composite. She turned to a Dutch firm called Skullpting to commission Head—a three-dimensional reconstructed bust of her.v Head was derived through the use of Cat scans, teeth casts, hair samples, and a painstaking self-analysis on the artist’s part. In Auto Portrait Pending, Magid entered into a contract with a company to have her ashes compressed into a diamond when she dies.vi As in Antonioni’s film, we follow these odd narratives as others attempt to describe or capture Jill Magid’s physiognomy and identity. In the end, we, and they, fail to locate our protagonist definitively, but we still feel her hovering presence and influence.
Jill S. Magid, Monitoring Desire. Submitted to the Department of Architecture in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Masters of Science in Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (June 2000), 33.
The films were one aspect of Magid’s work, and the letters, accumulated into an artist’s book were another; Evidence Locker was presented at Tate Liverpool and Retrieval Room at FACT.
Magid, Monitoring Desire,6.
It is made in an ecstatic pose reminiscent of Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa from 1646, but which actually is based on Salvador Dali’s The Phenomenon Of Ecstasy from 1933.
This work corresponds with another of Adrian Piper’s works, What Will Become of Me, a life-long collection of the artist’s hair and fingernail clippings, symbolic of the artist as an artwork.
Jane Farver is director of MIT List Visual Arts Center
Click on writers name
Jelle Bouwhuis Jane Farver Janneke Wesseling