Jill Magid’s “The Proposal” to Premiere in NYC and LA

Jill Magid, The Proposal, 2018. Film still.
ACT at MIT

Conceptual artist and ACT alumna Jill Magid (SMVisS ’00)’s documentary, The Proposal, which chronicles her project to resurrect the life and art of Luis Barragán, premieres at NYC’s IFC Center on May 24 and Laemmle Theatres in LA on May 31.

The Proposal is part of a larger project that Jill began in 2013 – The Barragán Archives. The Barragán Archives is an extended, multimedia project examining of the legacy of Mexican architect and Pritzker Prize-winner Luis Barragán (1902–1988). Magid considers both Barragán’s professional and personal archives, and how the intersections of his official and private selves reveal divergent and aligned interests, as well as those of the institutions that have become the archives’ guardians.

In her Director’s Statement Jill wrote that “The Proposal is my first feature film and the last chapter of a larger project I began in 2013 called The Barragán Archives. The project explores the contested legacy of Luis Barragán, Mexico’s most famous architect, and how his legacy is affected by the fact that a private corporation, Vitra, owns his archives and controls the rights in his name and work. For more than twenty years, this corporation has made his work largely inaccessible to the public. The film questions whether a single actor should be exclusively in control of how the world can engage with Barragán’s work.”

The project is likely best known for the highly controversial move in which Jill had Barragán’s burial vault exhumed (with his family’s permission), took some of his ashes, and had those ashes pressed into a diamond. The diamond was subsequently set into a ring which she offered to Frederica Zanco, who controls access to the archive. This, itself, plays on the rumor that Vitra heir Rolf Fehlbaum bought the archives for Zanco in lieu of an engagement ring, and is representative of Jill’s work which often subtly undermines institutions of authority.

 

In a 2018 Hyerallergic article Dan Schindel wrote that:

“Magid has meticulously documented the myriad legal and informal procedures she’s gone through in trying to get to the archive….

“Adding to the already existing layers of fictionalization and obfuscation Magid has conjured around her quest, she chronicled the whole process in her new film The Proposal, which screened this past weekend at the Camden International Film Festival. Parts of the movie were already incorporated into her previous works. The sequence in which workers open up Barragán’s vault in order to retrieve his ashes was before this a short film, The Exhumation. Likewise, the documents (or reproductions of documents) presented to the camera were part of her exhibitions The Proposal and A Letter Always Arrives At Its Destination, the previous installments in this project.

“These elements take on new significance in the shift of context from galleries — where they can be perused at a visitor’s leisure — to a film, in which the artist has full control of when and how they are shown to a viewer. A film is linear, less tangible in contrast to a display of physical objects. For Magid, who in her work has continually tested the boundaries of what we count as “real,” this seems an appropriate new step. Whether or not she ever somehow gets into the Barragán archive is beside the point; she has built this project around the battle of wills between individual and corporation, with the archive turned into a MacGuffin of sorts. Its contents are less important than its status as a coveted thing….

“The Proposal is shot with many careful images, often still ones. Fitting into the wider theme of legal procedure in “The Barragán Archives,” she pays special attention to processes — how workers break into and then reseal the vault, for example. In spirit with Barragán’s work, she frames shots to let audiences take in and consider different spaces. When she spends time in Barragán’s house, searching for some spiritual kinship with him, the camera almost suggests that closeness. Her narration is frequent and often meditative, making it feel like a cinematic diary. The documentary doesn’t bring closure to her fight for Barragán’s archive, but it will work its way under a viewer’s skin and leave them with persistent ideas to consider.”

 

Full Director’s Statement:

As a visual artist and writer, I use my work to create new perspectives to long-established structures of power in society.

During the past eighteen years, I’ve trained as a spy, a police officer, and as a war journalist. Gaining access to power systems takes research, trust, and a series of unorthodox requests, requiring constant negotiation. From the inside, I engage these systems in personal dialogue. From there, I’m able to raise questions and concerns on how we live in relation to them.

The Proposal is my first feature film and the last chapter of a larger project I began in 2013 called The Barragán Archives. The project explores the contested legacy of Luis Barragán, Mexico’s most famous architect, and how his legacy is affected by the fact that a private corporation, Vitra, owns his archives and controls the rights in his name and work. For more than twenty years, this corporation has made his work largely inaccessible to the public. The film questions whether a single actor should be exclusively in control of how the world can engage with Barragán’s work.

As the film’s protagonist, I am aware that I am entering a story that has not previously involved me, and that my presence could affect its future, or a retelling of the past. I believe that it is crucial to discuss how artistic legacy is constructed, shaped, and manipulated. Does allowing the public to engage with an artwork in various ways and from multiple perspectives threaten its integrity, or make it more integral to society over time?

Almost as an invitation for image-making, Barragán was known to adjust a buildings’ design so that it would photograph better. With this film, I wanted to capture the overwhelming beauty of his work while simultaneously questioning the legal challenges one faces to do so. The film is in itself a proposal: A way to elicit dialogue about access to legacy and its proprietary nature, and not simply if the proposal will be accepted.

Intertwined with these pressing social questions is a quieter rumination on mortality and the relationship of the artist’s body to his or her body of work. Mortality permeates, in the aging of the architecture and within the intimate presence of three generations of the Barragán family. I wanted to present legacy as something potentially alive, and full of possibility. Transforming ashes into a diamond is an expression of possibility.

My work has long provoked questions about access to power and power relations, in a similar realm as the work of Adrian Piper, Tanya Bruguera, Trevor Paglen and The Yes Men.