Dialog in Common

Tadej Pogačar: On the Service Paradigm in Art

Tadej Pogačar [TP] is a community-oriented and activist artist based in Ljublijana, Slovenia.
pressInterview with Markuz Wernli Saitô on October 24, 2006.

What does the service paradigm mean for you?
Tadej Pogacar

CODE:RED (2001) Public intervention for sex workers in Venice, Leibzig, Sofia and Karlsruhe

TP: It all comes from my observations of everyday life. My long-term project P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. Museum of Contemporary Art provides since the 90s the virtual and conceptual frame. P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. is inspired by biology where the parasite is always in a certain relation with others. Through this sensibility I started various activist projects, the largest is CODE:RED project where the connecting line is the paradigm of service.

Nowadays we mediate and communicate art in direct disposition to the public where it is crucial how the audience is involved and contracted. That way I have been occupied with everyday services. Services are based on the now, the local, and society. It's about the relation between different groups of people. Services are systems that should help people in many fields. The main function of capitalist systems is not to assist people but to produce profit. The focus is not on how to facilitate the real needs of citizens. Here, following the historical model, the artist is transforming, putting oneself into different roles of society. Playful activities make evident what systems don't function properly. Ultimately the artist can be a moral figure through positive attitude, sincerity, solid work. Obviously artists do fail, because it is human that each of us contains the good and bad. This discrepancy opens fields of negotiation and provocation that help to shake up the audience.

What was your role for the Public Service exhibition in Berlin?
TP: Last year I realized with Sparwasser HQ in Berlin the exhibition Public Services which offered to look at the present condition from different angles. Some were investigations in helpful and alternative systems, others opened up utopian approaches. I was involved as an artist and curator of the project.

What do you do these days?
TP: Currently I am engaged with the new edition of the CODE:RED project in Brazil, where I am researching the self-organization of urban minorities. I am interested in the parallel economies and the strategies of survival of marginal groups. I am collaborating with the NGO from Rio de Janeiro.

In another example, in Croatia we make a plan for a working unit for sex workers. This project was also a provocation since prostitution is an unregulated and violent metier. Inspired by models from the late 60's we tried to get more context and history by establishing mobile living units and building small settlements. Events like conferences and round tables helped to anchor the project into the community.

Are your works a service to the public then?
TP: I don't know. Some of my works could be seen as service. Others depend on the public and sometimes my works are done in secrecy and exclude the public. I like to prompt questions and use art as a tool for change. It is important to question the everyday which I see as a public service. I am talking about changes on a small scale. Many things in daily life look like unchangeable or unquestionable. It is the same with history: We forget everything after some months. Art is important to recall, help not to forget and also to reinvestigate old systems.

How did you arrive at this point of (public) consciousness and engagement?
TP: I established P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. Museum of Contemporary Art because I like discuss not only art, but what constitute the frame of art, what makes the headlines, what is setting the rules in our society. I am interested in how things truly function. In the mid 90's I started to work with homeless in my town.

Marginal groups are searching for alternative economical models, looking for other channels of survival outside of the legal or dominant streams of economy. This quest for existence outside of the main system is sometimes also similar to certain artist's practices.

How does your working approach influences your relationship to public and individuals?
TP: When one works with urban minorities a lot of people have lots of second thoughts. That's why I position myself as a partner in a dialog. I don't approach minorities as an expressive artist who sells the spectacle. True collaboration means to conceive something new together. This is a long time process. It is important that both involved sides benefits and improves from this proces. We have to come clear about the aims and the rules of the project. I see myself as somebody who provides space in the frame of art and media and brings topics to attention which otherwise don't get publicity. Marginalized groups and artists are not only fighting for survival but public recognition.

So what is the difference then between you and a social worker?
TP: That's a quiet common question. I am not primarily interested in social issues but in self organizing proces. What are the triggers, that pushes one to build the minimal structure to survive? What are successful models of survival and why?

Sex workers in Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, for example, have to deal daily with widespread police brutality and police murders. The project CODE:RED in Brazil started with NGO Davida, that was established by Gabriela Silva leite, a former sex worker. She began organizing self-help meetings, started an organization with a videotheque, a newspaper, etc.

Tadej Pogacar

CODE:RED in Brazil (2005) helped launch a successful fashion brand which is modeled by sex workers who in turn receive a renewed recognition and dignity

Last year Davida started a new peoject: they launched a fashion line, called Daspu, that resembles a highly prestigious and established brand in Brazil. They got lots of media attention and public support as the top notch brand owner tried to sue them. As a result the Daspu label is well known and acknowlegded. Fashion models are sex workers. This changed the public view on them and gave them new dignity and new power.

Davida is aware of who they are and what they want. They use the brand to send a different message to the public leaving the stereotypes of sex workers behind. It lead to a dynamics where renown stylists and designers did the show's scenery free of charge. My contribution is to bring them to the Biennale in Sao Paulo.

How do you set up a frame for such a success story?
TP: There has to take place a change in yourself first, then a change in the head of others which eventually can turn into action. In Davida's example we have a strong individual personality who found her followers. It is important that we keep trying.

Tadej Pogačar founded the P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. Museum of Contemporary Art (PMCA) to propagate methods of what he calls the new parasitism: This parasitic economy is not based on exchange of equal value, but on gifts, offers, and gratitude. Whereas the societies of exchange are based on the logic of debt and credit and ruled predominantly by demands, the most circulated currency in this new parasitic relations is gratitude. In recent collaborative research projects the PMCA deal with alternative urban strategies, parallel economies and human trafficking in selected urban areas. Similar to parasites in nature, which co-exist only in direct relation to their hosts P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. museum chooses spaces, overtakes territories, interrupts relations and is nourished by the surplus of institutions.

externalP.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. Museum of Contemporary Art by Tadej Pogačar