Jill Magid: Woman In Sombrero, Women in Sombrero
Performa 13, at Art in General, New York
Thursday, November 7, 7pm (exhibition 2 November - 21 December 2013)
Review by Grace Banks
Jill Magid’s nod to the vocational nature of ownership is strong from the beginning of her performance ‘Woman in Sombrero, Women in Sombrero’. As part of the annual performance art Biennale hosted in New York, Performa 13, Magid presents a painstakingly thorough investigation into the life of Mexican architect Luis Barragán in a performance piece and accompanying exhibition. The performance begins with a feeling of need and desire as the artist dreamily asks ‘Try to make yourself understood by me, even when you know our views are completely different’. This sets the tone for the piece; how far do we go in the quest for identity and what does ownership mean in a modern world.
In ‘Woman in Sombrero, Women in Sombrero’ the artist makes her case as the true benefactor - spiritually, emotionally and physically - for the legacy of Barragán and places herself as the victim in a tangled web of misplaced power and desire. When making her investigations into the Mexican architect’s life, Magid was met with both open arms and closed doors by two independent parties who own rights to the designer’s professional archives. Whilst the Barragán Foundation were happy for their archive to be explored, the lot held by Rolf Felhbaum, co-founder of Vitra, was not made available to Magid. In an attack on Felhbaum which strays into vendetta territory at times, the artist almost revels in the role of scorned woman. A series of projected images during the performance include a photograph of a chair blown up to ten times the size, the dig at Vitra made clear. However there is also a serious investigation made here into the successes and failures of documenting the self.
In his exhibition ‘On People, Photography and Modern Times’, Lebanese artist Akram Zataari presented a series of installations based on his excavation of the Studio Sheherazade photography archive. The result was an assault of visual imagery, re-shaped through the lens of an outsider. It is in this vein that Magid succeeds. Her claim to legacy is essentially one to identity. In a part of the performance in ‘Woman in Sombrero, Women in Sombrero’, a lawyer explains the limits and possibilities of copyright laws, where the opposing side, the one that will not allow Magid to explore their archive is sent up in pantomime form. These scenes are grabs at place and identity in an emotional sphere where there are no black and white lines.
Magid seems to know that essentially she has no claim to Barragán’s archive. What ‘Woman in Sombrero, Women in Sombrero’ does is to probe the human desire for ownership, the comfort of having something that’s just ours. But as the artist acknowledges this, she takes on board our inability to ever have ownership over someone else; something’s got to give.