Counter-hegemony fights and directs actions, both in the activist and artistic sense and are based on strategies that are often unspoken and not systemized. In this short note we collected the different stra- tegies used throughout the intervention Penthaus à la Parasit which we think could be useful for other emancipatory and artistic actions.
Parasite strategies‘ are supposed to disturb the functions of a system. These strategies do not absorb their own resources, but trickfully use the characteristics of the system it is targetting. Parasitic strate- gies comprise the interference into a given system, the attempt to stay invisible, adapting to the logic of the system and using its resources. However, what is most important for parasitism as a strategy, is to cause irritation. This does not happen through direct confrontation, but through small shifts in the logic of the operation within the system.
By analyzing these different actions through the interventions and engagements in the Penthaus à la Parasit, we collected six of the most important strategies which could also be applicable to other political agendas.
1 Figure of Imagination as Author
To create a Figure of Imagination which has the potential to narrate the whole story and content that you want to talk about.
A figure, or in our case, a parasite creates the opportunity to be guided through the whole action. The figure, bringing its own characteristics and cultural associations, provides orientation for the choreography, aesthetic, language and references you can use.
Besides, the figure can speak as an autonomous subject. With this, the question of authorship would receive much less attention than it the reception of artistic practice that unfortunately, so often foregrounds the artist as subject.
The ‘Figure of Imagination’, makes it possible to adapt the aesthetic, the strategy, the language and the formats and therefore, the creation of a new narrative. It also allows a congruent and consistent strategy to be kept.
In the Penthaus, the figure of the parasite was helpful even in direct confrontation with authorities, because it always supplied us with another perspective for the ques- tion: – what would a parasite do now? In our case, we would, for example, always consider whether resisting to leave the niche of the parasite or searching for a new host would require more energy. In this way, the ‘Figure of Imagination’ helped to make options for actions conceivable and plausible within the artistic framework.
2 Raus aus der Szene/
Leave your scene
To leave the typical aesthetic and language of your social and political milieu and develop a form of communication that can address various groups with different social codes and norms.
The Penthaus à la Parasit makes use of squatting as a strategy, but with a different form of communication and a varied appearance. It squats in order to discuss aspects of gentrification such as the raise of rent values as well as create a symbol of resistance and empowerment. This in turn, creates another imagination of the possible.1 However, it does not communicate with symbols associated with squatting. The reason for this is not to neglect the importance of such symbols for the history of squatting and political fights, but to avoid triggering stereotypes.2 In practice, one of the basic rules that worked out
in various experiences of squatting, is to avoid referring to squatting when communicating. Instead, we relied on the ambivalence of our actions, which to some, might be interpreted as squatting, whereas to others, might not even be noticed within the elements of our action.
The ambivalence of not being clearly associated with a political milieu sparks curiosity and enables you to communicate with a much broader audience.
When you are immediately framed along the typical lines of political division, you lose engagement from the majority of people and you are unable to use public media as a tool of power. If you use the language of squatting, for example, you lose all people who oppose squatting and it is easier for property owners to use their typical response to squatting: eviction.
‘Leave your scene’ is not limited to communication. It is also an encourage- ment to use other platforms in order to engage with other parts of society.
In the Penthaus à la Parasit, we purposefully used very different platforms to reach very different people. We used, among others, Instagram to engage with people who are interested in arts and aesthetics, flyers in near-by mailboxes to inform neighbors, Twitter to engage in policy debates, real estate websites such as ImmoScout24 to reach people looking for, or offering housing. We also looked into other media with particular a niche to discuss our work. This ran- ged from major broadcast studios, to architecture, to even lifestyle magazines.
3 Parasite Agency
Act in the best available camouflage to realize your action.
For instance, in the case you want to squat or do a public intervention, you might perform as you would while doing contracted work that is usual of your environment. In our case, we wore construction outfits, we carried business cards to give people if they asked what we were doing, and we acted during normal workday hours. We even printed out a description for the fictional commissioned work (which proved more useful for ourselves, but supported a certain attitude). In short: act as if you had social authorization to be there, and as if what you do is the most normal thing to do.
4 Parasite of Law
In case you plan to do an intervention that may cross a legal border, it is always important to know very well the loopholes and grey areas of the law. Additionally, it is helpful to have contact with a lawyer who can counsel you or even defend you in a situation of a legal escalation. Having good knowledge about the possible legal interpretations and risks of your action will assure you in your action, and you will notice that in the performance itself.
In most cases, in the context of Germany, you can in the first instance refer to the paragraph of artistic freedom (§5 Art. 3 GG3). One strategy for being able to make use of this juridical support is to ‘baptize‘ the intervention as an artistic practice before the actual illegal intervention starts. If you have presented the intervention or parts of it in an art environment, such as an exhibition, a reference to the freedom of art is much more plausible and effective.
In the case of the parasite penthouse, another interesting point is to play with the gaps in the execution of law. In Germany, as our proprietary example, there is a rule that if you once have your `center of life‘ (Lebensmittelpunkt) at a certain place, you can’t be evicted by the owner or the police itself without a court decision. And to prove that your `center of life‘ is somewhere, you need only to prove that you receive mail at that address. To assure that, the parasite always installs a mail- box and asks friends to send letters to that address.
Another gap that the Penthaus à la Parasit exploited were the legal characteristics of property, defined in Germany by its `fixed connection to the ground‘. But how do you prove a fixed connection? Does the parasite penthouse have a fixed con- nection to the house‘ To maintain this legal ambiguity, we were very careful to not
‚destroy or hurt‘ the skin of the house (host) when fixing the Penthaus à la Parasit on a rooftop. We actually turned the law around and had a lawyer who would protect our house from being destroyed or us from being evicted by making use, ourselves, of the private property rights.
Most importantly, having a legal narrative will give you authority when encountering concerns from others in the preparation and the execution of your action. It signals to others that you have thought deeply and thoroughly about what you are doing. Legal language enjoys a high level of authority, in particular in institutions and among more conservative individuals. It is the language of the ruling, and a parasite should use it for its purpose.
5 Parasite Hijack
This strategy has some similarities to parasite agency and to `leaving your scene‘, but it refers not to a form of installation and camouflage, but to how you are able to enter other systems to reach a different audience.
In the case of the Penthaus à la Parasit, the project analysed the real estate market and used a certain image of the `penthouse‘, by producing glossy and polish images, to sneak into that environment.4 That attracted visitors and people interested in the experience of the rooftop with a view, enabling the intervention to reach people outside the artivist‘s own bubble.
6 Parasite reaction
energy in confrontation. The parasite wants to survive on the host, not to kill its host.
The parasite might live on a host without asking them for permission or even without being noticed. But at some point the host will likely become aware of the parasite and begin to fight it. The parasite needs to be ready to leave at all times, and prefers to use its energy, time and focus to occupy the next niche or border of a system. The parasite should always already be gone when the host fully discovers and understands the niche exploited by the parasite.
That doesn‘t mean that the parasite will not fight, but it means that it fights on another level and remains sustainable in the way that it uses its forces subversi- vely, knowing that it couldn’t win in a direct confrontation with the ruler (host). It has fewer resources then the host, and by definition no institutional support.
All these strategies support an intervention by encouraging you to continue irritating the host and help search for the niches that exist in every system to appropriate. In these times, where the system as a whole is not really able to be addressed – parasite interventions, could be one of the many ways to tackle the system. It shows on the one side, the vulnerability of the hegemony and opens up niches of action where are least expected, and on the other side, it intervenes and constantly irritates. Thereby drawing attention to where you can focus and support your political fight.
- Of course, you can always raise the question of its efficiency and actual effect on political change, but I do not intend to enter this discussion here. I represent the opinion that to open up a com- munal space, appropriate it for assemblies, communities and social experien- ces, which were actually locked, is something that I see as useful. I believe in micro actions, or the creation of Rhizomes, as a method of action.
- Political squat- ting is still an im- portant strategy because it says no with a certain clarity and creates attention. It causes visibility and creates a platform to speak about important information. So to speak, it crea- tes a platform for further communication.
- Kunst und Wissenschaft, Forschung und Lehre sind frei. Die Freiheit der Lehre entbindet nicht von der Treue zur Verfassung.
- Penthaus à la Parasit – Raffinierte Reduktion Mit Grenzenloser Freiheit. Auf Immobilienscout 24. 2019. 23.07.2020, 12:34