Jill Magid

05.25.12

Left: Cover of Jill Magid’s Failed States (2012). Right: Jill Magid, Failed States: My 1993 Mercedes station wagon, armored to B4 Level, parked at the Texas State Capitol, 2012. Installation view.


For the 2012 Bucharest Biennale, artist Jill Magid will exhibit her novella Failed States, which chronicles her experiences as she trained in 2010 to be an embedded journalist in Afghanistan as well being witness to a shooting at the Texas state capitol building that same year. An interdisciplinary artist who engages with institutional structures and notions of intimacy, attempting to materialize phenomena like secrets and risk, Magid’s work encompasses performance, prints, sculpture, video, and writing. The biennale is on view from May 25 to July 22, 2012.

WHAT IS A WITNESS AND WHAT IS PARTICIPANT? This is a vital question that arises in Failed States, a project I began working on in Austin, Texas, which consists of multiple pieces, such as sculptural components, prints, video, and sound pieces. The project was inspired by a New York Times article that examined the connection between snipers and their targets. The writer of that piece curiously emphasized a kind of intimacy to describe their relationships.

Soon after I began work in Austin, I witnessed a man named Fausto Cardenas shoot six bullets into sky in front of the Texas state capitol building. Immediately apprehended, he spent the next eighteen months incarcerated, charged with a terrorist threat against a government institution. During the time Fausto was in jail, I was training in Texas with a journalist—named “CT” in the novella—to embed with the military in Afghanistan, as part of the original impetus for the project in Austin. I began to consider my position at the scene and in the press as a witness, if only by coincidence, to Fausto’s act. Subsequently, I made the decision to remain his witness, flying out for every hearing, forging an intimate relationship with both the prosecutor and the defense attorney as a way of better trying to grasp Fausto’s act, for which he never gave reason. While I was training to be the kind of witness who goes to a war zone and writes about what transpires there, I was committing myself to be another kind of witness, one who follows a man and his painfully slow journey through the US court system long after the press (and public) have lost interest in him.

The Bucharest Biennale is largely focused on the question of what makes up a public. Anne Barlow, the curator, is focusing on artists who use research as means to investigate certain unknowable facets of civic institutions as well as those who also infiltrate those systems by means of seduction. Generally, my practice is distinguished by multiple events: The first is performative, involving experience and research that deepens into a process that serves as source material for the objects and writing, while the second is contextual, how and in what forms the materials are manifested for the public. In regard to the latter, I decided to present Failed States the novella for the first time, but I was worried and curious about how Failed States, which is focused around such American themes as gun control, US foreign policy, and journalists embedding with the American military, would translate in the context of a biennial in Romania. Aiming to resist these issues, I decided to collaborate with three of the nation’s magazines: Vice, which has a Romanian arm; Taboo, which is a women’s fashion magazine; and Zeppelin, an architecture magazine. Each provided briefs on what they wanted for the context of their magazine and how it would relate to the novella. In a way these magazines act as three extended venues of the Bucharest Biennale. The book and magazines will be installed as a reading area within this amazing old and decayed building called the House of Free Press, which was originally built as the media center of Bucharest and later became the voice of the Communist Party.

For me, writing is a form of drawing; like sketching, it comes immediately after the experience and the observed situation, allowing me to capture detail when it is fresh. Someone told me this is a romantic way of writing. This is my process and it is the reason why I am so emphatic that my work is not fiction. Some people may assume that what I write is fiction, but for me, obviously a relationship or a sensation of a relationship can’t be fact-checked but all of the historical or social-political markers that I am discussing can be. It is important to me that what I write is true.

— As told to Zachary Cahill