Review: Jill Magid’s paean to the unspoken word at Honor Fraser

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Best known for an artwork commissioned (and later confiscated) by the Dutch intelligence agency, Jill Magid brings her fascination with infiltration to L.A. for the first time in an elegant installation at Honor Fraser. It examines the case of Fausto Cardenas, a young man arrested in 2010 for firing six shots into the air — randomly, it seems — on the steps of the Capitol in Austin, Texas.

Magid happened to see the shooting, and quickly became part of the narrative, appearing as an eyewitness on the news and following the case obsessively. The resulting installation — including text, news footage, a live video feed from the capitol building, and an armored Mercedes-Benz — explores the ineffable gulf between actions and words.

Cardenas gave no explanation for his act, and Magid intertwines her own story with what little she knows of his, orchestrating their interplay in wall texts that resemble stage directions. This conceit is drawn from Goethe’s epic drama “Faust,” chosen for its titular similarity to the gunman’s name, but also for its internal narrative of a tragic deal with the devil.


Faust’s monologues can be seen as a stand-in for Cardenas’ missing one. A passage from the text, reproduced as a silkscreen, charts Faust’s transition from the primacy of the biblical “Word” to the importance of action. Next to this sits the armored car — a blunt physical precaution against any random hail of bullets. Both contrast starkly with the babble of the news clips playing nearby. Words only dance around what really happened, leaving a void at the center of the story.

This emptiness takes form in the next room with a wall-size video feed from the current (bullet-less) sky over the capitol building and six small photographs taken skyward from the steps where Cardenas stood. Nearby, six spent shells lie encased in a vitrine embedded in the wall. We have the scene of the crime and the evidence, but the motive remains fugitive.

Magid did try to communicate with Cardenas, and exhibits a letter and a copy of “Faust” she sent him. Apparently, he did not respond, but the work is likely stronger without his participation; it becomes more about Magid’s will to know, the ultimate frustration of that will, and the preservation of Cardenas’ interiority and his privacy (an increasingly foreign concept). In the end, the piece is a paradoxical paean to the mysteries of non-verbal communication. Thoroughly dependent on text, it ends up asserting that actions not only speak louder than words, they sometimes drown them out.


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Honor Fraser, 2622 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 837-0191, through July 7. Closed Sundays and Mondays.