Tadej Pogačar
Vuk Ćosić

The Para-Mirror of the New Parasitism

1. The two levels of the New Parasitism
The strategy which Tadej Pogačar describes as the “New Parasitism” (to differentiate it from the parasitism as a biological phenomenon) appears in several different forms. Pogačar establishes fictitious systems and institutions, enters actual institutions (museums, schools, etc.) and operates in them, and is also active in researching and presenting the hidden or overlooked phenomena, social groups, practices and relations. All these forms and activities, however, are included in one basic concept – the museum. The museum institution established by Pogačar, The P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. Museum of Contemporary Art (in the further text, I will refer to it as PMCA), is not just one of the forms of appearance of the New Parasitism; it is its institutional base. The Museum is an institutional form which has, as such, became independent even from Pogačar himself as a person and artist (e.g., PMCA can appropriate and use his own works of art). This institution gives the basis and meaning to other forms of the New Parasitism (which include the scientific and pedagogical discourse, the commercial activities, etc.). Being compatible to other institutions, it is able to enter them, to adapt to their structures and to operate within them. It is also the institutional form which structures the attempts to research and reveal the hidden, suppressed and parallel, and organises the space of visibility for it. Pogačar’s “New Parasitism”, therefore, operates on two levels. One level is his entering into systems, institutions and relations; but this level is only possible because of a more fundamental parasitic operation: the appropriation of the form of museum and therefore a mirroring, duplication of the institutional space of art.

2. Art is what is on display in the museum
Of course we have to ask ourselves why did he choose exactly the museum for such an institutional basis. The answer is probably connected to the definition of art and its radical transformation in the past century. The traditional aesthetics was able to define art through its specific media (painting, sculpture, drawing etc.), the specific activities inside these media (“imitating”, “depicting” etc.), and the specific values which were thus produced (“the beautiful”, “the sublime” etc.). In the last century, however, art has expanded far beyond these limits, transforming its own character and definition radically. Even more, in the 20th century we repeatedly witness attempts to abolish the autonomous character of art and to amalgamate completely art and life. Art can now appropriate any object, phenomenon or activity (and often attempts even to abolish itself as art and to become a part of the so-called “life practice”). Therefore, new criteria have to be established, according to which one can reliably judge whether something can be treated as art or not. It turned out that the criteria of art (although not of the artistic quality) can be external or formal rather than internal or structural. The field of art is, to put it simply, determined with its institutional framework. It can be defined as the world or system of art; whatever enters this system becomes artistically relevant. An artist can appropriate and use any part of the non-artistic reality, or even works by other artists, and turn them into (his/her) art. The art status, however, does not depend entirely on the artists’ decisions any more; to a certain extent, the art system became autonomous. If it used to hold true that artistic relevance depended on the decision of an artists (e.g., the well-known example of a “bus drive” which can be art if it is performed by an artists and used for his artistic statement), it is now enough that a certain fact which originally and by its intention is not art enters the art system (represented by an artist, but also curator, critic, historian, museum director, etc.) to gain such a relevance. Therefore, we often see on exhibitions, on equal level with the works of art, most diverse exhibits, such as medical models, erotic devices, police photographs, reconnaissance photos from the military satellites, etc.; none of these object was produced as a work of art, and often no artist used them for his/her statement.

It was one particular institution that has gained a special, dominant position inside the world of art: the museum (especially the museum of modern and/or contemporary art). We can say that museum often, in a sort of metonymical way (as a pars pro toto of the whole system) represents the world of art. This key role has been granted to it because of its position in the hierarchy of the system, because of the diversity of its activities, possibilities and structures, and because of its role in selection and regulation of the field of art. The museum stands on the top of the pyramid of public spaces (with this I mean all the spaces, physical as well as institutional, where art is publicly displayed); the mere physical presence of a work in the museum space is by itself a confirmation that the work is not only a work of art, but a work of art with specific qualities, worth dealing with more thoroughly.

If the mere presence in the museum confirms that the object in question is a relevant work of art (or something which is not a work of art by its intention, but is somehow adequate to such a work), we must perhaps pose the question about the structure of the museum space; and this will hopefully show us a clearer picture of the parasitic strategy towards the museum as a space and institution.

3. The ground plan and the discipline of knowledge
When the architect Edvard Ravnikar, in the second half of the 1930ies, worked on his first big project, the building of Moderna galerija in Ljubljana, he studied carefully recent museum buildings; less their formal properties, as a matter of fact, and more their structural aspects and functional organisation. He collected a number of examples of architecture, which enables a rational, clear and meaningful arrangement of the exhibits, a simple and logical way through the exhibition and a quick and easy access to any point of the exhibition space. If we look at the ground-plans published by Ravnikar in 1939 in his article about on the project of Moderna galerija as reference materials we can easily see that the form of these plans has more than just strictly functional value; their geometrical perfection expresses the order of the knowledge represented by the museum. Spaces are often connected in a system of field and disciplines; when an object enters a museum room, it also enters an ordered and hierarchical system of knowledge, a system which is just as clear, perfect and accessible as the museum spaces themselves. It is interesting that the ground-plans which were especially interesting for Ravnikar, seem to be quite similar to each other: they represent the form of a wheel, i.e. a round building with connections reaching from the centre to the rim in an ordered beam form, as spokes (it makes no essential difference if the plan presents a full circle or just a half of it). This is an archetypal form, rational, clear, perfect, functional and aesthetic, and with a strong metaphorical potential. But it is also a form with very specific history and connotations in the Western world. It is directly connected to the ordered and hierarchical architecture of prisons, hospitals and similar institutions, reaching back to 17th and 18th centuries, to the architecture of ordering and disciplining, described by Foucault, especially in his Surveiller et punir. In this sense, we could understand the notion of “disciplines” which the museum connects, orders and represents, in a more literal way, and connect the museum with the systems of managing and disciplining – in this case, of managing and disciplining the knowledge.

The materials published by Ravnikar in his article make us aware how in the ground plan of Moderna galerija (with a central room which functions as the point from which one can directly enter almost any exhibition space) there is still present, although hidden, the system of the hierarchically-disciplinary institution: jail, hospital, etc.

It seems, however, that the museum of modern art is not based on an ordered system knowledge, i.e. on a scientific system, in the same sense as the so-called general museum or the museums based on specific fields of science (natural history, ethnography, history); this is why Ravnikar was able to conceal and modify the hierarchical structure of the ground plan and permit it a more flexible, less hierarchical and systematical, even more heterogeneous character. The function of the museum of modern and contemporary art is perhaps more to accept certain practices and knowledge into a special filed where they gain a specific “artistic” value, become objects of observation and contemplation, images, representations, while at the same time they lose their primary function which they used to have in the non-artistic world. They become, with the expression used by Peter Bürger, folgenlos, i.e. they have no real effect on the world any more – of course, apart from the actual social role of the representations and images.

4. Museum as mirror
The museum, especially the museum of modern and contemporary art, functions in a sense as a mirror – it can capture in itself the “whole world”, but what we see in it, regardless how real, how identical to the “external” reality it seems to be, is only a reflection, an image, representation of this reality. Just as the mirror selects a certain detail or fragment, cuts it out from the continuity of the reality and thus makes it for the first time really visible, the museum accepts certain objects and practices of the outer world, and these, as they enter the institutional field of art (e.g., as they are on view in the rooms of a museum of modern art), lose their reality and turn into the reflections and representations of the reality, but gain visibility, form and structure, meaning and new contexts. They enter visibility, and at the same time a system of knowledge. As the example of Ravnikar’s plan for Moderna galerija proves: the “mirror” of the museum is not neutral or innocent; its structure is, openly or secretly, the structure of a disciplinary and hierarchical institution. As the museum of modern art “mirrors” the world, its numerous practices and realities, it at the same time brings order and discipline to it, turns it into a system of knowledge, establishes structures of power through it.

Now we can return to the parasitic strategy of the PMCA. As any museum, PMCA produces visibility and brings it into systems of knowledge, but it does it on a certain meta-level. As it is a parallel and delocalised entity (literally “para-site”), it has no substance of its own, no material basis for such a production, merely the institutional form through which it sticks itself onto the host’s body and starts to explore its potentials. It is only through its hosts that it incarnates and localises itself, using the hosts’ resources for its own basic museum function: production of visibility/knowledge. Only a host can provide it the space, the “mirroring surface” for this task. But, since the PMCA as a parainstitution doubles these hosts, while itself remains essentially non-localised and non-materialised, introduces a certain dualism into the hosts’ view. It uses host’s “mirroring structure” to catch reflections of the world, but at the same time it displays the surface itself and its structure, i.e. those strategies and methods by which the host produces visibility. This relation of duplication, the self-mirroring of the host in its own mirror appropriated by the parasite (i.e., in the parasite’s “para-mirror”), is uncertain and fragile and permanently in danger of turning into its opposite (i.e., there is always the danger that the host will appropriate and use the parasite, just as it happened to a number of critical attempts to attack and undermine the institution of the museum – although it is also true that the museum, which had to adapt to these attacks and response to them, has transformed itself essentially in the process). The “hidden ground plan” of the power relations that define the museum thus appears only in fragments, and on the edges of this duplication.

Igor Zabel