Monday, February 1, 2010

the authority to remove

the tate modern recently hosted an exhibition of work by jill magid, work commissioned by the Dutch Secret Service who, once the work was installed proceeded to confiscate some of the contents of the exhibition. what ensued over the course of the various negotiations and exchanges between artist and patron is an interesting study about control of both information, images, content and, of course, people. it's a fascinating performance:

'The secret itself is much more beautiful than its revelation.'
Jill Magid, The Report for the AIVD on the Subject of its Face.

Authority to Remove marks the final chapter of American artist Jill Magid's long involvement with the Dutch secret service, the AIVD. In 2005, she was commissioned by the AIVD (De Algemene Inlichtingen en Veiligheidsdienst) to create an artwork for their new headquarters. This unlikely-seeming invitation came about as the result of a stipulation under Dutch law that a portion of the budget for the new building be spent on an art commission.

Through her performance-based practice, Magid has initiated intimate relations with a number of organisations and structures of authority. She explores the emotional, philosophical and legal tensions between the individual and 'protective' institutions, such as intelligence agencies or the police. To work alongside or within large organisations, Magid makes use of institutional quirks, systemic loopholes that allow her to make contact with people 'on the inside'. Her work tends to be characterised by the dynamics of seduction, the resulting narratives often taking the form of a love story. It is typical of Magid's practice that she follows the rules of engagement with an institution to the letter - sometimes to the point of absurdity.

you can find out more about the book generated (or edited) by the project here.

you can find out about another piece generated by the experience, the directives, here.

all of which raises the question: what is the relationship between artist and patron/ commissioner/ institution? what are the expectations, responsibilities, hopes for both players in this relationship? what i find most interesting about jill's work is the surrender to the conditions of the commission(s). it is courageous. and yet it goes against the grain of our precious [artistic] autonomy -- not that this kind of control was a primary issue (or it least it isn't recorded) for many of our art history stars: michelangelo, raphael, da vinci, rembrandt et al -- all had to work to others' expectations and demands (and potential rejection or alterations) while creating their pieces. it wasexpected. how things have changed. now things often start - and end - with the artist rather than the commissioner, patron, consumer.

when did art stop being about serving others, about serving - and giving voice to - a community? when did art become about the artist? please understand me - i'm not asking this in order to have someone explain to me how there was a shift in the late 1700s/ early 1800s in continental europe in the conception of the idea of the artist, which was shaped by philosophical, social, political, social and, ultimately, market (read: economic) forces -- if you want to read a very good summation of that, read larry shiner's the invention of art: a cultural history. what i'm asking is a question for the artist - the cultural producer - who do you serve?