Wirt talks to Wirth
WIRT: What fascinates you most of the Penthaus à la Parasit?
WIRTH: I think it’s the plurality of the project and to see that the society supplies us still with a lot of niches, which are open to use and which offer a big playground for all kind of practices. And to see that the parasite can use these niches very smoothly and that it is able to cause discussions as well as ‘use value’ where we don‘t even think about ‘use value’ anymore because rooftops, or ‘unused’ spaces, have become only measured in ‘exchange value’ – in profit and fictitious value. This is something very satisfying.
And for me, as an artist and sociologist, who uses the public space and discourse as my canvas, I think that this work really developed potential and also bridges the different interests I have. From activism, hijacking, irritation, creating new experiences and also to bring a philosophical concept into practice. That is something I really enjoy.
WIRT: You always communicated through the figure of the parasite and you tried not to really appear with your personality. Why did you choose to use the parasite as the narrator or author?
WIRTH: First, it has a lot to do with my understanding of the author and my criticism on the ‘personal cult’ and that a work often becomes only important because of the artist and not because of its content, its quality or its ‘aura’. And a side effect is, that if the ‘known artist’ sticks too strong to their person, they also reproduce the privileges and the disequality within the art surrounding even increases, which is one of the highest in the systems of our western society.
A second aspect why I use the Penthaus à la Parasit as the narrator, is that in that way, the artwork really stays in the focus and also the intention and symbolic of the project stays open. It is able to keep on communication without me as translator. And also on a practical beahlf it makes sense. Because if the parasite has to find a new rooftop, because it is threatend to be evicted from its host, it is a totally different picture if a parasite publicly calls out for a new host, as if I as an artist would search a new rooftop for my „object“.
In short: I don‘t see the parasite as my object. It tries to be a catalisator for different topics, imaginations and counter-hegemonic positions of special politics and hegemony. It tries to feed this discourse and doesn’t want to connect it to a personal singular story.
But I also have to admit, that it doesn´t work very well in terms of the press. In my own communication (Webside, Instagram, FB, twitter) I can stay behind the foreground. But one challange to keep this narrator alive is by being confronted with the press. They always want the artist in front.
WIRT: You talk about the parasite as a social figure which lives on the border of systems. Did you discover some new aspects in your field work with the parasite, which you didn‘t know before?
WIRTH: I see artistic practice also as a way to produce knowledge and even to find out new gestures of philosophical or theoretical concepts – which often seem to be too abstract. With this work I also try to ‘test’ these concepts in the field; in the empirie.
What I found very inspiring, by referring to the parasite of Michel Serres, is that it actually supplied me with even strategic advices and I could always think in difficult situations “what would a parasite do?”. E.G. When the host of the real estate company at Alexanderplatz, where the parasite had been placed, threatened to turn the parasite down by the next morning. We knew that the strategy of the parasite would not be to confront the host and to lose his energy in the confrontation with the host, but to stay as long as the host is still outside the room. And as soon as the host is back, the parasite is already gone and it has already found a new host. In the case of Alexanderplatz, the parasite had been gone the night before the company arrived to destroy the parasite. The parasite doesn‘t give the host the pleasure to catch it. So it is always one step faster and always leaves only a small trace.
But some things I found out – is that not only the parasite becomes a host and that the chain of relation between parasite and host always keeps on changing. So actually the question is “who is the last in the chain” – because that’s what the parasite tries to do; but I think that parasites can still be parasite by being a host. The noise is information as well as noise. And at the same time the penthouse is a parasite and also a host for me or for others.
I think that it is even more important to see the parasite in reference to power structures and hierarchies. Than the question would be – who is up in the hierarchy – the noise or the information, the parasite or the host? I would say that only, by being noise, the parasite can be the host. Because then it doesn‘t pay attention to its own system. The parasite is trying to disturb, interrupt and to be noise and doesn‘t notice that. At the same time another parasite is moving into his house. And as soon as the parasite stops to be the noise, it comes back to its house and expels the parasite. And finally it would “die the death of order” like Serres would say.
WIRT: Did You find out something about your own practice by working with the parasite? Since it also became part of your Master-Project and in a way the end of your educational career?
WIRTH: Yes indeed. I have the feeling that finally through the parasite I found out a lot about my own practice and methods. Because I feel, that the Penthouse includes strategies, approaches, methods of my different art practices and even activistic experiences of the past years. It seems to be the first conjunction of all these branches and languages.
With the Penthaus à la Parasit, I became clearer about the methods and strategies I use and which I want to use for the production of my operations.
I like to engage in the daily routine and I don´t want to wait, until people pass an exhibition or read something about it. I want to irritate in the conventional process of our society. If it‘s like with the penthouse for example within the real estate marked, or like with ‘brutalistic airbnb’ the online platform and tourists, or like with the performance ‘I pimp your product – sexism sells’, the visitors and management of the Tuning Fair.
I like to engage and to step out of the White Cube and the comfort zones of Habermas understanding of the public space. I try to understand how the different Öffentlichekten (publics) function and how I can engage with them.
Another aspect which became clearer for me is the irony I always try to use in order to not condemn and judge people in these divers publics, which is for me an important point not to be in a moral position – like Kants Urteilsvermögen. Because I don’t really observe anymore a single public. It is stratified and differentiated. And therefore I try to respond to this situation.
I think the art field is actually a bit behind the time in terms of the production of its audience. In other disciplines and even in Marketing it already arrived, that you have to go out to the people and not to wait for them and to find ways to break the social distinction within society.
WIRT: What did surprise you by realizing this project?
WIRTH: Mh … – actually it is quite simple. I was really surprised that I could stay at the first squatted rooftop for 7 Weeks without any interaction with the host or the political order. This was a big surprise. I didn‘t know that it would be so easy to find and then use a niche.
Also I was surprised about the resonanz of the project. I mean I never had so much resonanz – over 80 Articles and 5 TVs and even researchers and publications which are including this project.
Apart I was really surprised about the feeling of living on a rooftop. This freedom was incredible and I couldn´t really imagine to move back into a room.
And last – I think I was very happy, to see that it worked incredibly good to work with my collaborator Alex. He is an economist, doesn´t comes from the artistic field, but we just found a very nice way to work together, support us, criticize us and create our own resource of reference, which is important if you act against bigger institutions. You need another ‘reference system’ for having enough courage and also power to realize counter-hegemonic practices.
But I have the difficulty that this collaboration is hidden – because he doesn‘t want to appear in the public, because of his other Job – and it is sometimes not easy to represent something, what was created together. But behind that, we also found the strategy which minimize the juridical/financial consequences. All the fines we get are then just dedicated to one person and not to both of us. So somehow we get 50% discount.
WIRT: It seems like the work became part of you and your personality. Especially with the performative element of spending your two weeks COVID-19 quarantine in the Penthaus. You are actually bound with this action the Penthaus. So how far did the identification with the character of the parasite go?
WIRTH: Mh… I think finally I really connected to the figure of the parasite. The figure which is always at the edge of systems – always a stranger and always flexible. That’s something I really identify with. And also the point that the parasite always has to move and that it can’t stand still. It reflects my motivation to be active and to be an artist in the public space, which means for me to be vulnerable and to not know what comes next and when the hegemony with its power structures strikes you. I feel always this balance and insecurity in the public space with its fear and its “power” of appropriating space. And that’s what is also happening with the Penthaus à la Parasit. I feel “strong” and able to shift ordinary norms – and at the same time I feel very vulnerable and weak – because there are always moments where I notice the impossibility to resist the host and the institutional norms.
And by spending the obligatory quarantine in the Penthaus – I reacted on the current situation and thought of possibilities to realize it despite of COVID-19, because I thought it‘s even more important to use the public space in these times. As well it became clear, that if I talk about the housing situation – COVID-19 and the way how it showed even stronger the disequality in the housing situation will become part of the action. Therefore I named my own quarantine in the Penthaus “Quarantäne mit Promiblick” and raised the question „Is precarity the only way how you can afford to spend your quarantine in the city center?“.
To spend my quarantine in the 3,6m2 Penthaus was also a legal twist – because I registered my location in the city-administration – so they gave me the order to stay there for 14 days – to stay at a squatted rooftop. Therefore one law gave me the order to stay and another law wanted to defend the private property and to evict me. This clash is something I am interested in.
But coming back to the question of identification. I think that because of the quarantine – it was impossible for me to keep-on being anonymous as I used to be in the other cities where I engaged with the Penthaus, because in Munich I was talking about the quarantine and therefore I had to appear to talk about the conditions and the situation.
So suddenly my personal questions rose and I had to deal with the difficulty of being the parasite (as a COVID-19-Quarantine-inmade) and at the same time designing and creating the host itself (the Penthaus).
This double-figure was complicated and I didn‘t have any protection anymore between my person and identity and the public and the critique. I was there with my person, even with the danger of being evicted and having to pay 25.000 Euro fine, because of breaking the quarantine-rules, and also with my personal life and with my personal art object. I felt observed, controlled and not able to escape at all.
This strong focus on my person made me also think about the question how much space I take by appropriating rooftops, executing a “Quarantäne mit Promiblick” and being so much in public focus. Even if that‘s part of my artistic approach to irritate and to place an counter-practice in the public discourse, I also question my position by doing so. For me, the question of legitimization is always something I struggle with. Because my education as a sociologist tells me, that you shouldn‘t be so simplistic, reducing an information or opinion to a single standpoint and to not make your personal perspective to “big”. But the more important question I deal with is how to deal with my privileged position as a white european male. One of my critique would be therefore, why I still stick to this kind of practice which uses my privileges so strongly, by being able to break rules, feeling free in the public space and not having fear of institutions? Of course my intention is to “use the privileges” in order to bring up topics to discussion – but on the other side, if my person is so strong in the focus as in Munich, I question how much it serves my personal “career as an artist” and how much it reproduces my privileges rather the fighting them. This is an open question and I have to re-negotiate it again and again. But by this merge of art piece and my own person it became even more relevant.