Walking the Neon Line


Artist Jill Magid must be one heck of a smooth-talker. The brilliant, young, and not-unattractive woman (as evidenced by her many self-portraits) has talked her way into being allowed to bling-out hundreds of Amsterdam's police surveillance cameras, to commandeer the cameras at various educational and cultural institutions, to determine the viewing behavior of a man stationed at the controls of a set of cameras, and to be a long-term, intimate ride-along companion for a member of New York's police force. While many of her projects relate to surveillance, it is not only the tension between looking and being seen that is played out in her work, but the legal and social systems surrounding these infrastructures. For instance, when she first asked to decorate those cameras, as an artist, she was rejected, but when she created a company called "System Azure," the same cops answered in the affirmative. Magid works her way into these systems, exploring the personal line between public and private, documenting these often emotionally complicated performative immersions in writings, photos, and installations. For the last three years, Magid (who splits her residence between New York and Amsterdam) has been secretly interviewing members of the Netherlands' AIVD (Algemene Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst), in order to gather information about the national intelligence agency's employees. In a show at Stroom Den Haag timed to coincide with the inauguration of a new AIVD facility, the artist presents cryptic evidence of these encounters. Open April 20-June 15, the show's title "Article 12" refers to the law that protects personal data. Interestingly, the items on display don't look like Jill Magid--they don't even look immediately like "Jill Magid's work." In this case, she's presented coded portraits of her interviewees in order to craft an image of the public face of the otherwise mysterious AIVD. The artist aired an infomercial starring herself, in the old AIVD building, to attract potential subjects. Now this video is displayed alongside reproduced research notes, installations that make veiled reference to her interlocutors and the history of the agency by which they are employed, and a room full of hand-scrawled notes translating into fiery red neon. One such neon piece reads, "I can burn your face." It hangs on the wall rather than resting on the floor like the others, and is one of the few declarative phrases among notes on people's appearances and histories. One wonders, in a way, whether this is a quote heard my Magid, or rather her own statement about the power invested in her by the AIVD. Unresolvable as this question is, it makes quite clear that the fine line Magid walks between participant and observer has herby become electrified. - Marisa Olson

Image Cred: Jill Magid, I Can Burn Your Face, 2008