Artist Profile: Jill Magid

I Can Burn Your Face, neon, transformers. Installed at Yvon Lambert Paris, 2009.

Much of your work takes place off site as a performance or engagement with a public entity outside of the confines of a typical artist’s studio. What are your thoughts about the artist’s studio in contemporary art practice? Do you feel you spend more time generating work outside of your studio or are the private space of the studio and the public space of the commons one in the same?

I do a lot of research in my studio that prepares me for engagements with the public or private institutions I explore. The studio is also where I reflect and build upon those engagements, drawing from the raw material that I have acquired. 

Works like Article 12 / The Spy Project and Evidence Locker produce narratives in the multitude and variety of objects they generate. You create beautiful custom websites for some of your projects, videos, prints, and even novellas. Do feel particularly drawn to one medium as your body of work has developed?

The media I work with fluctuates depending on the system I am exploring. Some systems offer up their own visual or textual media, which I’ll then use or incorporate into the work I make. For instance, Evidence Locker mainly consisted of videos and a novella. This is due to the system: CCTV cameras produce video footage; to access the footage a citizen must fill out a Subject Access Request Form. In the Spy Project I was only allowed to record my meetings with agents through writing. While I used a multitude of media (neon, drawing, a book, video, sculpture) writing is clearly at the heart of the work.

Over the past decade the role of the artist has become a more dynamic and discussed identity as it has dispersed into economic and communal space. Many of your works offer an interesting take on the role of the artist as one that is reflective of the systems that we engage with everyday. What inspires you to continue reinventing and exposing your own identity to those of the larger and sometimes secretive systems around us?

I’m not sure what you refer to in terms of the artist’s role becoming more dynamic, but for me, I am interested in engaging the world around me— particularly the systems of power that (attempt to) govern or control us, in order to understand them on a personal level. This has remained a consistent interest of mine.

Reading the description of Lincoln Ocean Victor Eddy makes it apparent that taking risks is an important part of making work for you. Also, one of the artist statements on your website says, “Permission is a material and changes the works consistency.” Where does your interest in uncovering potentially risky or challenging subjects come from?

I choose to explore subjects or institutions that I do not already recognize or understand. Stepping into those spaces is always uncomfortable. Communication between us will require negotiation, a desire to move beyond preconceptions, and a willingness to be vulnerable. All of this entails risk.

In A Reasonable Man in a Box you create a powerful personal experience out of a controversial government document disclosed in 2009 by President Obama. Why do you feel it’s important to reframe the typically banal or subversive language of legalese in a new way?

It’s surprising to see “banal” and “subversive” both referred to here as typical for the language of legalese, when they are quite opposite terms. I felt it was important to closely examine the language of the Bybee Memo, to attempt to follow its logic, and to discover how language can be manipulated to alter or elude the law. 

photo courtesy of Czeslaw Czaplinski

Brooklyn, New York

How long have you been working creatively with technology?  How did you start?
Since 1999, when I first used a lipstick surveillance camera to see inside a mask I made for kissing. 

Describe your experience with the tools you use.  How did you start using them?
I use technological tools when they are necessary to see or explore something in a way that, without their use, I couldn’t.

Where did you go to school? What did you study?
I went to Cornell University for my BFA, where I majored in Sculpture, and to grad school at MIT where I got a Masters of Science in Visual Studies.

What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?
I don’t separate my work in terms of the traditional or technological. I think all of my work relates conceptually, and aesthetically—even though it covers a wide range of media.

Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?
I consider myself a writer as much as an artist.

Who are your key artistic influences?
They are often changing, depending on the project. I am often inspired more by writers than other artists. I will seek out writers who are concerned with subjects I am, or from places that I am exploring at the time.

Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory?  If so, which authors inspire you?
I have been inspired by many philosophers and critical theorists. I sometimes turn back to the ones I was most enthralled with in school— Baudrillard, Deleuze, Marx, Jessica Benjamin, to name a few, but I don’t often turn to theory now, unless I have a question I am trying to answer for myself. I currently read more fiction, nonfiction, and journalism.

Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?
Whether I am using new or old media, I am always very concerned with how I use and display it. I don’t take any media for granted, and try to understand its qualities and history, and my choice to employ it.