Penthouse à la Parasit

Guerilla Intervention, 2019

In 2020, more than in any time in our memory, the word ‘parasite’ summons a dangerous and unwanted figure. Virus, bacteria or plant, a parasite uses the life resources of another living form without giving back, and without care for the endurance of its host beyond its own survival. A parasite in society could be no better–or so we are used to thinking.

A 3,6 m2 wood-frame house, covered in reflective steel, perched on the flat rooftop in a big city, provokes you to think otherwise. This tiny penthouse reminds its hosts that the parasite has an ebullient, creative value in an ecology of change. “If evolution is an order,” writes Michel Serres, “the parasite is certainly its element. It interrupts a repetition and makes a series of sameness bifurcate.”

Starting from the precept that the parasite, by ab-using a paradigm, introduces new forms into a system, the artists built and installed the parasitic penthouse illegally on several rooftops in Berlin, Weimar, and Munich over the course of the past year. The mirrored stainless steel facade that blends the house with the city’s last free sky performs physically what is the parasite’s most important strategy. The Penthaus uses the coded languages of the real estate market, lifestyle consumerism, legal strategy, cultural organization and of fine art to occupy, adapt, and survive through encounters with society, communicating with it in a queer form of social innovation. In each place, the penthouse received guests a la Airbnb, was placed for sale in real estate websites, and hosted open concerts and lectures on rooftops. The polemics of parasite art, embracing ambiguity and thinking through salvage within a system that is ever in crisis, reverberate within the abyss of a time of polarized politics and of lapsing imaginations for the transformation of the status quo.

In “Born to be Bauhaus,” Jakob Wirth invites the visitor into a looping journey through the multiple faces that the Penthaus has taken over different places and public platforms. The show walks through the house’s front door, sees its own reflection on the long mirrors that formed its sides and roof, stops by the built-in bed to watch a promotional video that advertises a night of affordable luxury on the rooftop in Munich, and could stop for a long time to read dozens of pages from a legal suit against the penthouse.

While the house itself is not inhabited, but deconstructed to take the form of a retrospective showcase, the parasite took lodging in the gallery through the “Parasite Residency.” During the week prior to the opening, twelve artists lived around the Eiermannbau, and the work they made integrates the exhibition, around the building grounds and within a gallery-inside-the-gallery built for the show.

The exhibition is accompanied by issue 1 of Parasite Art, a magazine dedicated to explorations of the edge. In the inaugural issue, scholars, critics and artists discuss in different voices the parasitic life of the Penthaus, their own projects, and the abilities and polemics of the parasite as a social software.

Marina Resende Santos