Being a parasite – colonisation and removal

Some time ago, in the mists of pre-‘rona, I began attending the Parasitic Art School (PAS), a project inviting local artists to come and use (parasitise) university art space (as a host). The sessions are loosely facilitated – there is often a theme or a collaborative prompt, but participants are free to ignore it. Much focuses on drawing in a broad sense – sometimes formally (life-drawing), often using other materials to ‘draw’ in yarn, light, sellotape and so on. Anyone can offer an idea and become ‘teacher’, or not as they wish. For the last year it has been running online and I recently facilitated my first session (in any visual arts setting, not just PAS). Initially interested in the ideas of swarms and intricacy, this morphed into consideration of parasites colonising a host and being removed. Parallelling medical aspects, what damage does removing a parasite do, can this be repaired, what is the outcome?

The first step was to spend a few minutes sketching something – anything would do – to be the host. I chose my pitcher-plants.

The host drawing

The next step was to parasitise it – draw over it, add collage, or something else. I decided to cover it in sellotape and trace the host with felt-tip pen.

Parasitised host
Detail of the parasitised host

The parasitised host is similar to its initial state but not identical. Though the tape isn’t that noticeable, the outlines don’t quite match, some faint colour had been added (e.g. on the pots) and the parasitic ink forms droplets as it can’t sink in as it would when drawing on paper. The parasite tries to hide but is visible, or its effects are. Once diagnosed, the parasite is removed – the sellotape is peeled away carefully, though damage is inevitable. Others might be cutting their parasites away with scissors, erasing them or scraping with blades. By now, the various hosts and parasites were developing at different rates.

The host with parasite removed.

There was, as you can see, considerable damage to the host. Repairs were undertaken by redrawing. Meanwhile, the parasite, still extant in a few large pieces, recolonised by reattaching in a different location. It had adapted and now mimicked its host. The host was scarred, but bore its parasite-load. Now more complex, less pristine, was it now more interesting? Had it gained something from the parasite? The procedure finished here, but could be iterative, repeating the process of colonisation, removal and repair. Would it reach a sort of dynamic equilibrium, the details changing, but the overall effect remaining similar; or would new materials be brought in to make more fundamental changes? Further experimentation may be indicated.

The repaired host with scars and reattached parasite.