Q&A: SABRINA MUMTAZ HASAN, THE SOCIO-PARASITOLOGY MANIFESTO
Sabrina Mumtaz Hasan is currently an Art and Science Masters student at Central Saint Martins. Using the parasite as a metaphor her work explores our nature and methods of social change. In her studio, interrupted , so happily, by sculptures and wall hangings in mellow and vibrant shades of brown, we discussed the socio-parasitology manifesto she has written.
How did the socio-parasitology project start?
I started working with parasites after reading books like Michel Serres’ The Parasite, and The Natural Contract. Then I was looking into the use of metaphor, and the relationships between things, specifically between people. I've always found it difficult to read interactions so I started observing people’s speech and body language, and the parasite came from this. All interactions are parasitic as we gain something from one another, an exchange; a movement between our bodies, and environments. We can't escape being parasitic. And I relate it to how I interact in day to day life. But there's also a sense of distance that I've seen form between how people are reacting and how I see them react that makes me question 'what is actually happening and what kind of coupling is forming- what's the dialogue between them, and how am I interacting with others'. It was in 2016 when I started looking into this and the term parasite was coming up a lot in the media to do with migrants, and I was reading feminist writers who saw the female body as a host for males.
How do you relate your art practise to the manifesto?
I show diagrammatic styles of how parasites and hosts interact with each other. So when I do set up work they are normally in pairs. One’s often the more dominating than the other. The way I play with that is through scale, colour and size like thread thickness. My art practice is the physical side of this; the sculptures, paintings and drawings - they all interact. The sculptures are also made of flame proof material, and I was looking at heat as the first form of contact between the parasite entering the new hosting environment - so I played with temperature and indestructible materials. The springs are important too - I started drawing springs as the physical manifestation of an interruption between the host and parasite. That's how my practice feeds off the written work. I think they are so completely integrated with each other and constantly changing.
Reading your manifesto it’s clear that you want to provoke social change. What particular social changes do you have in mind, and how do you relate it to the parasite?
I’m looking at social change within the political realm to do with immigration, looking at how immigrants actually benefit the environment. For example tax paying is a form of incremental social change by immigrants. Through the parasite and host relationship, I'm trying to promote acceptance and a slower active movement of social change through social interactions. I’m looking at how these interruptions can benefit others and yourself, where interrupting is actually good for the body and good for the social body which is the nation. The interruption itself is the most important part because that interruption actually adds to incremental social change. Rather than a dramatic social change which is inconsiderate, and what a lot of nationalists want to implement. They want instant policy that disrupts the entire nation, or disrupts a certain marginalised group of people. When governing bodies take an outside position, they lose a connection to people they should be looking after. Politicians, like Trump, that side of control and policymaking, and the media’s use of parasitic metaphors to describe migrants, reinforce my socio-parasitology perspective. This use of metaphor is so dangerous, it’s like an automatic disgust and repulsion to external things. I look at the slow movement of change to learn ways of living and behaving and how to adopt traits from parasite host relationships - taking from the host and protecting it as well - that’s something that's missing. That would be my utopian end point, everyone accepting difference and living together in harmony.
How would you say that parasitising is a form of resistance especially in the sense of all interruptions being positive, and do we have it in our nature to take this on board?
The way I see all interruptions being positive is because each interruption between the parasite entering a new host produces a change or breakage in a linear system which produces a productive act, and that productivity is positive. Its in our nature, people want to be in this unity and people are searching for the next person that they can interact or bond with, and that sense of bonding is so vital for human nature to function. It happens so progressively throughout the day, every day. Social media is a good example of a positive parasite. I had a reading group that looked at how refugees use social media as a form of integration into the new host environment. It showed a fluctuating hierarchy, this in-between platform manifests as an interruption allowing refugees to learn about the host environment and once there is contact and closeness, it’s easier for both groups to merge.
That's how it works in biology as well. There's been many studies about how parasites protect the body from diseases. But connections between people have been made difficult because people aren't allowed to always do what they want which is often due to economic stress.
Everything starts from the body for me. Working towards changing a global perspective has to happen through how you deal with yourself to then upscale into community. So it's a reversal to how policies work, but I don't think creating binaries for saying it's reversible or not is important for the work. I'm not trying to work within that kind of boundary, the project needs space to do what it wants to do.
How can all interruptions be positive?
The way I've written manifesto is completely polemical and it is a very emotionally driven narrative. So some aspects are more exaggerated. I agree with all interruptions being positive in terms of only the parasite host relationship. But when it comes to external negative propaganda thats used against people I don't agree with that.
There is a dominant capitalist idea of productivity - how would you say that your notion of productivity is different or related to that?
The capital side of productivity is linked to militant labor and workforce through territory and governing, which creates an overriding hierarchical system- I think mine is different to that because it looks at moving beyond borders where productivity goes past the threshold. Its about a fluctuating hierarchy that happens because of the productive parasite - the parasite takes on the host but it also gives to the host and the host takes in the same way. Not everyone is the same and not everyone wants to do the same, not everyones end goal is to increase capital. But I think rupture is way more beneficial for the social body rather than accepting hierarchy and falling into a categorical role that maintains a certain level of hierarchy, because it undermines others.
In what ways do you think that social and global hosting environment lacks productivity?
There's so many gaps between groups, and so much segregation that happens because of overall decisions that are made to say we can give this group money or we can support this type of person economically because they fall into this category. Marginalised groups don't have the time to protect each other. They're completely separate but if there was more interruption between the groups, that would provoke change but that can't happen straight away. They are also kept marginalised because of how we are spoken about and how people are told to behave as others. There's so much prejudice that is born out of difference and lack of understanding. So what I would want to see, is more blurring of that beginning with accepting micro interactions, to move away from micro aggression that happens within different groups.
Can we ever be fully actively aware of our daily interruptions and interactions?
Yes because I did this myself, I broke down every single interaction I did for a month. One of my interruptions was calling my dad for money. I was writing down every interaction I did. It overtook me but it made me aware of how active I am, this sense of agency that I'm bringing to the environment from my body as a single individual person. Next time I want to do it for longer but this all happened before I could write the manifesto this year. So when I say an interruption should happen every hour that comes from my research.
What is it about dialectical conversation to you that can lead to effective social change?
The way I see it as dialectical conversations is purely speaking and using language as a productive method for communicating. How language actually frames what we're doing. And the parasite metaphor has already been ingrained in us negatively. During Nazi Germany the Jews were called ‘bacilli’ which means bacteria and now migrants are being called parasites or the word swarming is used. Recently, I made an audio piece on migrant testing, I used audio to repurpose language and rework terms to find social change through that. Looking at the syntax from media news in an interview style and speech and how that can be a form of social change.
What have you been working on recently?
My research has involved databases produced in camps and refugee detainment spaces, where people have been tested for certain types of parasites. So I am considering the negative side of it now. These test results are documented and brought back to the UK and the US, creating an overall population demographic statistic that one person carries this type of parasite. Connecting the refugee to the parasite is what adds to the problem, as it reinforces the negative. I’ve been working a lot with the biological and media based parasite, which is directing me away from sculpture to audio, and I think this is beneficial as it creates an archive. People respond to this better. I think you can relate to sound so much more. I also have an exhibition opening at Nunnery Gallery, Bow Road in January 2019, where artists are responding to my Socio-Parasitology Manifesto - this for me, is part of my research to create a working model for social change.