6 September 2016

By Isabella van den Bos.

After digging for an hour under a monument where celebrated citizens of the Mexican province of Jalosco are entombed, the gravediggers find the urn of Luis Barragán (1902-1988), one of Mexico’s greatest architects. The urn is opened and Jill Magid, a conceptual artist, transfers half a kilo of ashes into a plastic bag. The bag goes into a box which she takes with her in her handluggage the next day when she flies to her home in Manhattan…

In April this year Magid receives a diamond from Switzerland, sent by courier, 2.02 carats with one polished facet. A Swiss company, specialised in compressing cremated human remains into diamonds, has turned the ashes of Barragán into a diamond which has been set into a ring. It was hours before Magid opened the box and when she finally did, she had to cry. “It was far more emotional than I expected”, she told The New Yorker.

Magid claims she has the family’s consent black-on-white, which is contested by a cousin. And so the ring has become not only a bone of contention in the family, but even in the world of art. For what is at stake are the professional archives: world heritage that should be open to everyone. Rolf Fehlbaum, owner of the Swiss design furniture producer Vitra, bought the archives from Barragán as well as the copyrights and stored them on the Vitra Campus. The archives are not accessible, not even to colleagues and researchers. Magid wants to exchange the ring with Fehlbaum for the archives and return them to Mexico.

In 1980 Barragán was awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize for his geometric, brightly coloured buildings that are all to be found in Mexico. In an absolutely unique way the architect blended vernacular hacienda elements with modernist influences from America and Europa.

The focus of Jill Magid’s work as an artist and writer is on power politics. Since 2013 she has been working on The Proposal, a multimedia project which she hopes will achieve that the Barragán archives will be freely accessible. Magid had exhibitions in the New York Whitney, the London Tate Modern and was an artist in residence in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum in 2002.

This summer the architect-as-jewellery was on show at the exhibition The Proposal in de Kunsthalle Sankt Gallen in Switzerland. The last word has not been spoken about this power struggle and piece of jewellery. To be continued…

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