‚‘Art can give to society the opportunity to rethink collectively around the imaginary shapes from which it depends on for its continuity and comprehension‘‘,¹ Brian Holmes noted. In this respect activism and public art are to be examined as the means towards a counter-homogeneous artistic strategy that can challenge the established sociocultural and economic system.
My intention is to juxtapose here the representation of Parasite Art in its nature as social activism, and in its place within the arts sphere. For activism brings along the question ‚has it worked?‘ while the domain of art can be there only to point out questions rather than offer solutions. How do these practices complement each other, and to which extent does one parasite the other?
Penthaus à la Parasit by Jakob Wirth is a project that emerged empirically out of the subjective necessities of an individual in motion. The realization of the Penthaus led to elements that negotiate a conceptual locomotion due to its ephemeral occupation on the blind spots of the public territorium. Pragmatically the form of the Penthaus is at a first glance a representative of a hybrid artistic practice, an imaginary spectacle and a host for a post-structural formalization of the urban landscape. In plain sight, on architectural observation and despite its miniature scale, I would parallel its nature as ‚Parasitic Structure‘ to the architectural enterprise of the architect Cedric Price‘s Fun Palace (United Kingdom, late 60‘s). A project that stood for a nonconventional building; an endlessly evolving structure meant to be in ongoing construction, dismantling and reassembling, adaptable and responding to the sociocultural problematics, or rather, gaps of society. Fun Palace represented a ‚‘tectonic shift‘‘ from the perspective of architectural structures, addressing them in terms of economic and social engagement; motivated by the idea of offering to the public a ‚‘university of the streets.‘‘ The project created a theatrical scenery hosting cultural events and public talks and offering leisure time. Its fluidity to adapt to the needs of the people combined an utopian perspective on social architecture and the conceptual culture of the arts, values that are similarly met and implemented in a Para-site practice.
Architecture takes over the role of challenging a part of the urban fabric in order to gradually alter the infrastructure of a city and to endure new ways of interaction and fruition. Just as the Fun Palace came to challenge conventional understandings of how the public should inhabit and use public spaces, so, in my perception, does the Penthaus: a public interactive canvas independent from institutional norms and financial frames. The very existence of the parasite in this form as an art practice propels a question to the artist as the interdisciplinary host, that I now wish to indicate.
When we come to talk about a parasite work, a highlighted dipole comes to front between the social role of activism; in this case of the tool of occupation, and on the other hand, its value as an artwork and its representative role in the art market. As mentioned above, activism, on one hand, is an ongoing claim to deeply reshape and affect society, whilst on the other hand, the art project itself could be considered complete in itself, once set for viewing and distribution. We could then come to talk of a symbiotic domination, represented by Parasite Art, considering the liberation and autonomy of a squatting political act and its role as a Trojan Horse against the real estate economy. Yet on the opposite end of the arts, I would debate whether the artwork, due to its parasitic allocation outside of the walls of a white cube, benefits from a playful position towards the art market, thus setting its own terms for ownership. By saying so, I set the attention to another debate that the Penthaus sharpens here, between the privatization of a work whose availability can now be distributed to many, a distributed value embodying the clash of the understanding that art is owned by the few. Additionally the interregnum of its parasitic nature triggers moments of beneficial confusion. By owning the artwork the individual is instantly owning in its loosest form: the air rights of a territory that the market hasn’t framed with its policy power yet. The owner can now find themselves a step ahead of the real estate market within their own private zone. The Penthaus stimulates a grey zone for political personalities and rights to be obtained.
The Penthaus claims a dominant narrative underlining its social practice, through an artistic strategy that reforms the aspects of social sculpture. A parasite sited on rooftops, on the top of capitalism‘s zoning system, is shaping from above a disputieren (a contention, or dispute), hosting a dialogue between the principles of value and overvalue; an act propelled from artistic values towards social activism.
We could, then, as public, perceive the Penthaus as the representation of an artwork whose camouflaged form outsmarts the eye of the multinational corporations and enacts what the real estate market would consider an architectural eczema; thus reconfirming its given name as a parasite. However, I cannot help but make another relation here, regarding the compact cultural and economical value of the house itself, in a reverse understanding of a contemporary Potlach². From a non-voluntary position, the host of the artist‘s choice is offering space, a ‚gift‘, which is enough for the parasite to be nourished, and to encourage socialization and sharing. At the same time, the parasite gives back to the people the goal of achieving a predetermined ‚higher‘ status with the minimum life expenses, thus undermining the capitalistic hierarchy that was attendant so far. While its exterior aspires neutrality, the origin of the parasite generates a concrete yet ephemeral impact on the site. Here, the interrelations and associations that occur through the goods that are now provided to the general public replicate a new parasitic wave of social integration. Squatting brings to light a different kind of autonomy that stands out, formalizing a visible and invisible economy; the migrating art of dwelling.
In my attempt to reach out for a more clear position of which side is the one that benefits the most, among the art delivered by the artist and his purpose towards activism I come across a parenthesis between these two poles. Instead of citing ‘what is’ I find myself to be more intrigued by ‘what is not’. Instead of citing parasitism as an end to end practice, I stand by a para-citing angle of reading socially engaged art projects as the Penthaus à la Parasit. For, citing stands on a clear understanding of how a position or a public statement should be perceived. While on the other hand para in the sense of complimenting (working aside) stands not for a para-phrasing position but rather on an additional. Para-citing the civic stands rather for pointing out questions that are placed so to deepen the conceptualization of a parasite practice. Parasitic Art as seen here implies as well as it fosters a space of fluidity that imposes its identity and positions the practice as a frontier of the communal with its social representation in the art sphere.
Could we then imagine the parasite to be in an ongoing systematic formation, migrating values from the private sphere to the public? In an open conclusion that generates questions rather than meeting a concrete position, we can as the parasite vise versa let ourselves be dis-located from its centrifugal intention. Moving between the edges and the thresholds for a parasitic participation that is to be spread.
- Giannis Stafylakis and Kostis Stafylakis, The political in Contemporary Art, Chantal Mouffe, Democratic Politics and Conflict: An agonistic Approach, Greece, 2008
- In historical context the Southern Kwakiutl Potlatch resembles as an institution, a destructive aberration that results in cultural change which makes sense of its social function. Potlatch translates into nourishment by encompassing this concept of consumption and destruction which ultimately constitutes a kind of symbolic consumption, impression and social competition. Elpida Karatza, Anthropology and Contemporary Art, Greece, 2003
- Fun Palace and Parasite: the revise, 2020. Rafaella Constantinou.