Auto Portrait Pending
Press Release: "Make me a diamond when I die. Cut me round and brilliant. Weigh me at one carat. Ensure that I am real.
Jill Magid’s instructions as to what is to become of her remains after her death are deceptively simple. Her language — concise as a cut diamond — is a disarming mixture of legally-binding precision and poetic prophesy that turns metaphor into hard, immutable reality. Addressing an unknown ‘Beneficiary’, the owner-to-be of Magid’s body in her chosen afterlife, it is an invitation of extraordinary audacity.
A self-portrait by another name, Auto Portrait Pending is so radical as to completely rewrite the genre: it is simultaneously a Memento mori, and one that could only exist in the twenty-first century. Representation is exchanged for reality. It is a kind of Faustian pact (a recurring motif for the artist, in fact) with Magid bartering for eternal existence in the form of a carefully curated gemstone commodity, offering her own body as an artwork in the making, and in so doing tying herself in a very strange relationship with an unknown Beneficiary: technically she becomes their property-to-be. Further than that, it can also be considered a transubstantiation with all the potential heresy that implies, though one that is surprisingly common (Lifegem’s services are offered at around a thousand funeral homes in the US and the desire to remain in possession of a loved one as a ‘memorial diamond’ is lucrative business). With Auto Portrait Pending, Magid questions the fetishisation to turn one’s love for someone into a concrete object whilst submitting herself to this process. Both ironic reflection and committed undertaking, the piece also opens a spiritual enquiry as profound as a person’s soul may be intangible.
Part of the work’s peculiar power lies in its provocative blurring of so many immiscible categories: organic and mineral; person and thing: life and death. Both ready-made and yet-to-be-made, Auto Portrait Pending is a conceptual artwork whose realisation is resolutely physical. Its materials are the words, promises and permissions of a living, breathing body and the gemstone to be made in eventuality from that said body, with Magid’s inner being also potentially being up for grabs. Currently, at the core of the work is absence: a pregnant void to be filled as much by imagination as by the future diamond. The viewer sees an open black box that beckons like the grave; the traditional accessories to an unconventional proposal; and an emblem both of finitude and reverberation. "For me, a successful or meaningful work is one that is clear and simple; it offers enough space for its meaning to multiply," Magid has said. "With Auto Portrait Pending, I felt this."
Auto Portrait Pending occupies a unique place in Magid’s output, yet is representative of her practice, which consciously uses her person as a protagonist as well as maker. Her art creates intimacies with systems — including police, secret service, CCTV and forensics — subverting these through seduction and embedding herself within them. Concerned with the relationships between the personal and the social, her work is chameleon-like in its ability to assume different forms: 'If my subject is made of clay, I will work in clay'; 'if my subject’s out of reach I steal it in a mirror', she has explained. In Auto Portrait Pending her body becomes her medium carbonised and formed into a diamond, yet the subject of the piece — her own self — remains elusive.