When Jill Magid wrote “What is a reasonable man in a box?” on the Whitney’s wall I suspect she already knew the answer. The text references the “Bybee Memo,”* a leaked 2004 memorandum from the US Justice Department prescribing legal means for the CIA to employ illegal torture techniques such as confinement with insects. Slightly more complex than typically seen on an episode of Law and Order, the government’s jargon reduces “legal” torture to: “remove the possibility of permanent physical harm and you can do what you want”, the core of which Magid questions. After all, if you’re imprisoned in a box, how could anyone assume that it would not damage your physical and mental health?
Departing from her usual performative based works, Magid re-imagines the first floor gallery as a dark confinement box and projects a sentimental sepia-toned video of a scorpion’s shadow on the back wall. Every once and a while a pair of long tweezers descend to toy with the bug, catching and releasing it repeatedly. This is its own torturous game, and the shadow suggests only an imagined presence. At the opposite end of the gallery a vinyl-type reproduction of the memo—albeit marred by redaction—is affixed to the wall.
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