I Can Burn Your Face is a text-based neon light installation by artist Jill Magid that plays off of the phrase “To burn a face” used by the Dutch secret service (AIVD) to mean exposing a source’s identity. The series, which has been altered over time, is a direct presentation of Magid’s own notes, written upon meeting participating members of the AIVD. The neon lights are even produced in the artist’s own handwriting.
In some instances, the text is poetic and in other clusters of words they seem like nonsensical jargon, but they are all pulled from Magid’s handwritten notes that were jotted down to describe the people she met, since she wasn’t allowed to record their image in any other medium. The story behind this series actually begins in 2005 when the artist was commissioned by the AIVD to create a piece of art for their headquarters. Magid’s instruction were to “find the human face of the organization” and she was awarded a meeting with a few agents who voluntarily participated.
Upon meeting these people, Magid wrote everything she could about them, from their physical features and attire to any few bits of personal information they divulged. After speaking to the spies, the artist proceeded to create her neon lights and accompany them with 18 brief written prints. She completed her project in 2008, but the work was confiscated by the AIVD in 2009 and censored. What remains is an altered fragment of Magid’s original work (11 written prints and 7 blank pages to complement the neon lights). Even the fiery hue of the lights, appearing like flames on the floor of the space they inhabit, have been affected. The lights corresponding to the 7 confiscated prints have been permanently turned off as per the Organization’s request.