Transgressive Policy of Parasitism.
ABSOLUTE ONE or ACTIONISM TODAY
Today, art is simple, direct and clear. No illusions. Today, art could not possibly function as l’art pour art, or ‘art as art’, or ‘art as idea as idea’. Unlike historicism, it does not aspire to exalted objectives (aesthetical or political), as it did during the epoch of historical modernism1, neither is it eclectically dispersed or decentered as pure pleasure like in the era of consumer post-modernism.(2) Today, art subjects are socially explicit(3), culturally referential(4) and artistically realistic(5). The relationship between art and reality(6) is ontological.
Art is not a mirror representation of the world, but it is a representative,
or rather a probe of an ‘artistic action’ in the world that is a ‘new-or-other’
nature. Here the term ‘nature’ denotes polysemy of culture, or to be more
precise, the multifold effects of the struggle for power inside culture
and society. In the course of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th
century, this was the ‘class struggle’ between capitalists and workers.
In the second half of the 20th century the struggle was waged between
politically opposed blocs (the East and the West) in the symmetrically
split world (influential spheres). Today it is the struggle between the
‘center’ and ‘margins’:
The effects of this struggle are manifested as ‘differences’ and ‘differentiation’ of each individual or globalized ‘margin’ and ‘center’. Each society, on the racial, ethnic, sexual, economic, and political micro-level, is being constructed and re-constructed through the struggle between the ‘center’ and the ‘margin’. Global planetary society is constituted and reconstituted on the global level through the struggle between the ‘margin’ and the ‘center’, through a stable or relative relationship between the margin and the center, or between the real center and fictitious production of centers. The struggle is dramatic and relentless. Privacy and public life, art, production of material values, birth, death, enjoyment, suffering, as well as possession and giving - all is held in a firm grip by the eye of the storm.
In the new Europe of today one cannot draw a clear distinction line between the art of the East and that of the West, as in the period of cold war, or even late real-socialism. On the other hand, there is no an integrative field of ‘new European art’ either. There exist integrative functions and expectations that art should be in the service of new, conflict-free European culture, but at the same time one can observe entirely new and unexpected struggles between local paradigms of margin-versus-center and transcontinental (transnational) strategies which bring global margins and centers face to face with promised nomadism. Out of these struggles two novel artistic practices emerge:
Throughout the Eighties and the Nineties, the work of Tadej Pogačar was the art of action and disturbance (perturbation) of a given state of the world-as-art, or the phenomenology of ‘unfreezing’ the world and causing it to ‘melt down’ through the shift from the state of ABSOLUTE ZERO to the action of ABSOLUTE ONE. Or, as the artist himself says with much precision: »The message of the Absolute One project is that there is some action (in art) that is unwilling to yield to the state of things (in economy and politics-globalism), but insists on the construction of various (transformational) parallel networks, models, strategies and institutions«(9). His constructions of transformational and transfigural parallel networks, models, strategies and institutions are constituted around the policy of parasitism. His policy of parasitism acquires various forms:
Pogačar’s parasitism is a subtle deconstruction of the horizon of everyday and ruthless challenging of the social systems that are used to establish the center, domination and power in everyday life, art and society. The policy of parasitism leads to the exposure of the ‘dark sides’ of human existence. In fact the policy of parasitism leads to censorship created and utilized by the vast, centralized social power with the aim of setting up, maintaining and preserving regulative ‘normality’ of everyday individual and social life.
All of those who do not fit into such a play of ‘normal and normative everyday’ are pushed to the ‘margins’. Yet, is this margin perhaps a disguised genuine center of society and social everyday which unmasks the center, power, and domination? Is the margin an accumulated trauma of a big, mighty center of every society? How does the artist’s parasitism fits in here? What is Pogačar’s policy of parasitism? What is it?
Parasitism is a concept of work and behavior, but at the sme time also the artist’s method of work and behavior in a specific historical and geographical culture using ‘objects’ that are inherent to this very culture. Parasitism is a strategy of temporary colonization and use(10) of a specific culture (institution, anti-institution, social situation). The currently colonized or ‘parasitized’ culture (a museum, family home, an office, shelter for the homeless, sex shop) becomes a ‘polygon’ (a pattern, an indicative model or orientation map) of an artistic act (of passive artistic violence or anti-violence) affecting the order of ‘normal and repressive’ social everyday. The artist explores specific society and its reactions to parasitic invasion, colonization, pervasion, and penetration into the tissue (le chair) of the world as human world. Here is how Pogačar describes the parasitism of the world: »Ecology defines parasitism as a relationship between two or more species in which one (a parasite) sucks up the energy of the other (host). The host provides food, enzymes, and oxygen for the parasite, but at the same time it activates various defense systems thus creating perpetual tension, that is to say, the war, between the two. The parasite tries to surpass this state by establishing new kinds of links with the host. It responds to mechanical and chemical weapons (peristalsis, skin cleaning, anti-bodies) by anchoring itself (hooks, clutches) and later producing defense substances and devices that diminish defense capabilities of the host. The development of attack/defense approaches requires a lot of energy from a parasite, and since it is not available, it develops a specialized defense system. The use of this special technique is dependent in the first place on the age of the host-parasite relationship. The immediate environment of parasites, particularly those that remain parasites throughout their life, is the host’s body: the host’s body is the environment of a parasite. Precisely this inversion of the ‘external’ and the ‘internal’ is a point of interest for New Parasitism. In nature, parasitism is rarely found in its pure form - much more common are transitional forms which, depending on ecological environment, include mutualism and commensalism. In an ecosystem parasitism is a positive phenomenon because it is a form of population regulation. Out of the 40,000 animal species living in Central Europe 10,000 are parasites, which indicates how widespread and important this phenomenon is. The approaches used by New Parasitism are different from mechanism found in natural parasites, but some models found in nature are interesting for the functioning in a social environment. The syntagma New Endoparasitism embraces projects that involve ‘nestling’ in various institutions (museums, schools). In these projects we utilize internal elements of the location (information system, architecture, historical and social context, artifacts, texts etc.) to rearrange things and create new reading and communication«(11).
Pogačar’s artistic and political approach is determined by the conversion
of bio-policy or eco-policy into the theory and practice of the artistic
and cultural policy of parasitism. His policy of parasitism is a new ‘para(12)-ecological
strategy’ that operates directly with textures (textus) and tissues (le
chair) of the historical and geographical culture of society. In this
way the ‘regulative form of natural existence’, which parasitism actually
is in a natural environment, is transposed, transformed and developed
as a ‘transgressive form of the existence of culture’. Pogačar’s policy
of parasitism is neither entirely critical nor deceiving - it is simply
transgressive. It is not critical in the sense of the ‘critical theory’
of society and art as understood by Benjamin, Adorno or Habermass, or
in the sense of the ‘critical art’ of the early post-structuralist circle
gathered around Tel Quel magazine, or conceptual artists connected with
Art-Language magazine. It is not critical because it does not operate
in accordance with the intentions of the positive dialectic turning of
the ‘given negative state of society (art)’ into ‘positive’ (ideal, hoped
for) operation of society or art’.
Pogačar’s policy of parasitism is ‘transgressive’. The term ‘transgressive’means to trespass or to break the law or an order. The writer and philosopher George Bataille established the philosophy of ‘transgression’ as that of going beyond or overstepping the limit(16). Lacan’s psychoanalytical theory puts forward a controversial idea, namely that the only real transgression is the Law that is being breached: the greatest adventure and the only real adventure that turn…. all other (criminal) adventures into provincial caution, is the adventure of civilization, the adventure of the Law itself…(17) According to Lacan, the greatest ‘transgression’, or rather, the greatest ‘madness’, ‘nonsense’ or ‘traumatic act’ is the Law itself: mad Law. The contrasts between the Law and the ‘transgression of Law’ are in a sense repeated within the law itself. The Law is not a ‘naked’ pacifying power that opposes transgressions, but the greatest transgression is concealed within the Law itself. In this sense Pogačar’s actions tell us that the basic transgression is contained in the distinction between the margin and the center, in the criteria of normality set by social community, and in the constitution of an institution as a space of social everyday. Consequently his policy of parasitism is the transgression of an a priori difference between the margin and the center, the imposed or normative social normality, and of the power of institutions to effect social regulation. As a parasite he inhabits the institutions of the contemporary West. Pogačar shows that his transgressive parasite policy reveals real Transgression and mad Law of our human everyday through the power of an institution to regulate and deregulate each human life. Therefore, his art consists in the confrontation of, for example, ‘sublime’ institutions (a museum or an art biennial as the archives of collective social memory, or a laboratory as a polygon for discovering new knowledge), with ‘low’ institutions of the homeless or procurers of sexual services (shelters, brothels etc.)
An artist is a screen displaying the image of society, social struggles
between the margin and the center, law and transgression, the function
and the structure, regulation and deregulation, the politics of everyday
and everyday itself. The body, that is, the body of the artist as the
carrier of an action, reveals the mad Law of society in a play between
the active and the passive, or the private and the public.
The History and Currency of Parasitism
The process of constituting the policy of parasitism was long and slow(18). The beginning was an anonymous and ironic fashion show at the dump site near Ljubljana in 1979. He performed anonymous actions (‘Visit I’ in 1981, and ‘Visit II’ in 1992) in museums where he challenged his attitude towards works of art and other museum artifacts. For example, in the Museum of Natural Science he staged a complex action ‘Visit II’ without audience which involved meditation with a mammoth, a merger with a deer and the feeding of a bear. ‘Traveling Globe’ (1990) was an action where he exhibited two black classroom globes as public sculptures. ‘Laboratorium I’ (1993) was an installation in an intimate space which the public could not perceive directly. There was another experiment carried out in secret. Information on the experiment was later mediated through texts and selected documentation. The project ‘History of Art - Through the Body’ (1994) made use of the assets of the Museum of Modern History in Ljubljana. The rearrangement of assets produced fictional history of art as history of the human body. The action entitled ‘The Kings of the Street’ (1996) was carried out on the streets and involved the homeless that were introduced into the artist’s play of intrusion and intervention into their world. At the international exhibition After the Wall (Stockholm, 1999-2000) Pogačar participated with the throne on which was seated a homeless woman from Stockholm. Art historians and curators could tell you that it was very difficult, almost impossible, to find a homeless person in Stockholm. ‘Home Stories’ project investigated and demonstrated a specific micro-social parasitic relationship between the host and his guest - the artist lived for some time in the apartment of an art historian. Towards the end of the 20th and in the beginning of the 21st century, Pogačar began to work with parasitic functions and structures of sex workers. His attention focused on material apparatuses of the economy of desire.
This short index and indication of Pogačar’s work point to a specific, Duchamp-influenced character of his parasitic policy and his active-passive(19) actionism. In fact Pogačar’s work may serve as ‘point de capiton’ which makes possible the reading of the 20th century art history as the history of parasite relationships between artists and institutions. Of course we talk of that extraordinary line of art started by Eric Satie and Marcel Duchamp which constitutes a new status of the artist-dandy who does not produce new works of art but observes and keeps his ears open to the world, reshaping its semantics and devisualizing its manifestations/presence through minimal denominations and re-nomination. Culture itself has become the object of artist’s interventions, his parasitic colonization, and repeated shifts from the private to the public, marginal to dominant. In this his work follows the sense recorded by John Cage as follows:
To know whether or not art is contemporary,
Pogačar adopts Duchamp’s procedure of ready-mades and his tradition. He, however, redefines the ready-made approach through abandoning ‘non-artistic’ objects (Marcel Duchamp) or ‘linguistic trace of culture’ (Jasper Johns, Art&Language, Joseph Kosuth), or fictitious/phantom micro- and macro-institutions (Duchamp ‘Societé Anonyme’, Andy Warhol ‘Factory’, Marcel Broodthaers ‘Museum of Contemporary Art’, Joseph Beuys ‘Free International University’, Kosuth and the series of exhibitions that evolved in the process of rearrangement of the museum archives, e.g. exhibitions on Ludwig Wittgenstein) (21). Pogačar constructs (sets up), produces (organizes), transfigures (shifts), or settles (parasitizes) institutions that represent the frame of his work in the triangle composed of ‘art’, ‘culture’, and ‘society’. The colonized institution does not turn into a work of art but it is a context in which the artist’s action becomes possible and with it the transformation of the ABSOLUTE ZERO state into the ABSOLUTE ONE event.
The Slovene avant-garde, neo-avant-garde and post-avant-garde art (22) produced and developed a phenomenon characterized by artists working with an institution as a sample of culture and society. The protagonists of the historical avant-garde in the Twenties, for example constructivist visual artists (August Černigoj) and theatrical artists (Ferdo Delak), tried to shatter the autonomy of art and introduce art into the processes of social and class struggle.A work of art was a point of departure for the intervention outside art, and for the revolutionary utopian transformation of society. The members of the OHO group, which belonged to the neo-avant-garde and conceptual art in the Sixties, created a conceptual human named OHO Man, who combined and synthesized the character and psychological traits of individual OHO members. At the beginning of the Nineties, OHO evolved into a commune that resided in the village of Šempas near the Slovenian border with Italy. The commune operated as an existential and metaphysical organism of concrete-utopian connections and mutual pervasion of nature and culture. During the period of post-modernism and later retrogardism, Neue Slowenische Kunst movement was born. It emerged as some kind of para-institutional, anti-utopian system of artistic groups which coordinated their actions in the field of music (Laibach), painting (Irwin), theater (Red Pilot), design (New Collectivism) etc. Self-organization and self-institutionalization of the NSK movement was a direct conceptual- artistic-political practice that equated their work (artistic products of individual groups) with the very organization of the groups and movement as an ‘artistic phenomenon’. The NSK movement even designed and realized a fictional, or rather virtual state that had all essential institutional manifestations (a passport, a citizenship, stamps, diplomatic offices). Marjetica Potrč concluded her eclectic post-modern phase and embarked on the study and documenting or reconstruction of urban systems and catastrophic (entropic) phenomena in such systems. Her subjects were dying cities. Marko Košnik established a fictional-activist ‘Egon Marš Institute’ that focused on bodily and cybernetic articulations of micro and macro existential and behavioral systems. Marko Peljhan developed a fictional, pseudo-scientific Macrolab laboratory which is an artistic simulacrum of a science laboratory. Many net-artists in the Nineties work with information systems and networks, for example, Vuk Ćosić and Igor Štromajer (23). Tadej Pogačar’s artistic interventions, actions and parasitic policy emerged precisely within such a history of ‘systems’ taken as a field (territory without territory). He is a ‘universal parasite’ who appears in individual, fragmentary and specific circumstances of regulation and deregulation of dwellings, institutions, anti-institutions, that is, culture as a whole.
At the moment, the artistic and cultural context of the policy of new parasitism is Venice and Venetian Biennial. This context is regulated and de-regulated by the ‘constructive and atctivist work of the artist’(24). Metaphorically speaking, Tadej Pogačar sets up an event that could be named ZERO ONE. The artist addresses ‘parasitic’ and marginal groups as opposed to big, international art manifestation, that is, Venetian Biennial. The centralizing of the power of current art and decentralizing of marginal sexual work form the conceptual and activist ‘core’ of his action. He strategically links the relationships of the public, private and secret social behavior, or rather resorts to action and actionism through which he demonstrates parasitic settlement of the ‘economic’ and ‘political’ systems of the secret behavior (relationships with prostitutes, sex workers), of private existence (to be a tourist, an artist, a viewer, a visitor to secret and public monuments of Venice) and public demonstration (a parasitic exploitation of art as a ‘screen’ onto which are projected parasitic regulatory and deregulatory relations, contextualization and decontextualization of the ‘secret’, the ‘private’ and the ‘public’). Parasitism is a way of colonizing Venice during the Biennial, seen as an ecological environment. The symbiosis represents entering into the ‘games’ of the eco-system of culture and taking over of its secret, private, and public forms of manifestation (shapes, movements, presence, postponement).
2 Achille Bonito Oliva, Transavangarde International, Giancarlo Politi Editore, Milan, 1982.
3 Art thematizes, visualizes, reconstructs, simulates and cites culture.
4 A work of art is presented as a referential media text (installation, video, photography), with references in the world (society, culture, history-geography-gender, power-margin-center).
5 Realism becomes the poetics and theory of art. Contemporary realism is not realistic in terms of style and iconography in painting, like in Gustave Courbet, Otto Dix, Isaak Brodsky or Gerhard Richter. Today realism is a conceptual, media and simulation procedure through which is generated real pr fictitious referential relationships of the world (culture) and work-as-document.
6 Here the idea of the real is dual, its is: (1) the everyday world that surrounds us which is an individual and collective symbolic and imaginary reality of everyday (2) Lacan’s Reality, with capitalized R, which is impossible, escapes symbolization and representation as something imaginary, but dictates each of our (individual and collective) gestures, act, action, behavior, life.
7 In physics, ABOSULTE ZERO is a
temperature of 0° K or -273° C, the state of zero entropy.
9 Taken from the letter by Tadej Pogačar, February 2001.
10 Here the idea of usage is historically
indebted to Duchamp’s conception of ready-mades as non-artistic objects
which is used as works of art. Pogačar takes this idea to the real life
action (the idea of late Ludwig Witgenstein) in which he parasitizes the
world in which he lives and works.
12 For more on the functions of ‘para’ as a prefix, see David Carroll, Paraesthetics. Foucault Lyotard Derrida, Methuen, London, 1987.
13 I refer to Lacan's theory of objet a (petit a). Cindy Sherman's, Barbara Kruger's and Richard Prince's artworks are such objects of desire remuved out of culture of mass consumption into artistic media speculations.
14 Shoshana Felman, Le scandale du corps parlant. Don Juan avec Austin ou la séduction en deux langues, Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 1980.
15 Concept of ‘apparatuses’ is defined by Louis Althusser. Ideology has material existence - Louis Althusser, »Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)«, see Slavoj Žižek (ed), Mapping Ideology, Verso, London, 1994, p. 125.
16 He pointed to two transgressions of the discourse of reason. The first introduces into the discourse low elements (like the toe, the cry, the silence, the failure of discourse, a spot of ink). The second transgression, by opening up notions beyond themselves, upsets the symbolic code from ‘within’ and dissolves the gap guaranteeing that words make sense. Joining these two transgression (the ‘low’ transgression and ‘high’ transgression), as independent accomplices in the pinel experience, results in dissolving the gap that would guarantee the distinction between high and low: »Very sad evening. Dream of starry sky under my feet«. Therefore, transgression by dictionary mode means: (a) subversion, rupture and revolution; (b) parody of transgression - according to Marcelin Pleynet »in our time, no more transgression, no more subversion, no more rupture« only »a parody of transgression, a parody of subversion, a simulacrum, repetition of rupture.« (1966); (c) absence of meaning, (d) base materialism (bas matérialisme); (e) ecstasy and anarchy; (f) bodily writing (écriture corporelle); (g) loss, incomplete, pas tout; (h) sliding (glissement), (i) danger and sublime, (j) horizontality; (k) enropy; (l) without source; (m) architecture against itself; (n) eroticism; (o) sexual perversion as opposed to normal reproductive sexual activity; (p) blind spot of interpretation; (q) formless (informe); (r) transient; (s) open work; (t) traumatic; (u) project entrance, (v) beyond body dimensions; (z) elimination od symbol, metaphor and allegory; (ž) enthropy of sense. See: Denis Hollier, Against Architectuire. The Writings of Georges Bataille, The MIT Press, Cambridge Mass, 1989; Susan Rubin Suleiman, »Transgression and the Avant-Garde: Bataille’s Historie de l’oeil«, in Subversive Intent. Gender, Politics, and the Avant-Garde, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1990, str. 72-87; Yve-Alain Bois, Rosalind Krauss, Formless. A User’s Guide, Zone Books, New York, 1997.
17 Slavoj Žižek, Hegel with Lacan, in Philosophy through Psychoanalysys, Analecta, Ljubljana, 1984, p. 18.
18 See: The Art of History - Through the Body(Jornal for Anhropology and New Parasitism vol. 1 no. , Museum of Modern History and The P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E Museum of Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 1994; Tadej Pogačar, ifa-Galerie, Berlin, 1995; Laboratorium I (Journal for Anthropology and New parasitism vol.2 no. 1-2), Likovni Salon Celje and The P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E Museum of Contemporary Art, 1995; Kings of the Street (Journal for Anthropology and New parasitism vol. 3 no. 1), The P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E Museum of Contemporary Art, 1996; Home stories (Journal for Anthropology and New parasitism vol. 4 no. 2), The P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E Museum of Contemporary Art, 1999, Ljubljana, 1999.
19 I can conclude that Pogacar works without working and working without work, almost like Zen budists. Could this be exact deinition of parasitist policy ?
20 John Cage, from: DIARY: HOW TO IMPROVE THE WORLD (YOU WILL ONLY MAKE MATTERS WORSE) 1965-67, iz Eliot Weinberger (ed), American Poetry since 1950 - Innovators and Outsiders, Marsilio Publishers, New York, 1993, p. 140.
21 See: Thierry de Duve (ed), The
Definitively Unfinished Marcel Duchamp, Nova Scotia College of Art and
Design, Halifax NS, 1993; Martha Buskrik, Mignon Nixon (ed), The Duchamp
Effect (Essays, Interviews, Round Table), The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass,
1996; Benjamin H.D. Buchloh (ed),
22 Tomaž Brejc (ed), OHO 1966-1971, Galerija ŠKUC, Ljubljana, 1978; Eda Čufer (ed), NSK Embassy Moscow, Obalne Galerije Piran, 1992; Marjetica Potrč, Two Essays on Built Disasters, M´ars no.3-4, Ljubljana, 1997, p. 29-48.
23 See: Inventura 90ih (The Inventory of the ‘90s), Maska at. 5-6, Ljubljana, 1999.
24 From Pogačar’s letter, February 2001.