The Ghost is Present
There is no evidence that the words guest and host are etymologically connected with the word ghost*. While guests and hosts are graspable beings whose relation constitutes the problem of hospitality, ghosts are ambivalent figures. The ghost is present somewhere between me and you. It is a familiar-other who embodies the tension between the personal and the collective. The ghost is a performer who possesses a strange, timeless authority. The public is transfixed in awaiting its speech. The ghost is a host that teaches the social imaginary and gives advice on how to live. The ghost is a guest whose hosting is a risky endeavor. It remembers things that nobody else remembers and it might want to say them forever.
Ghosts are also known to be invisible, although many believe that they manifest in things. Things on the other hand, despite being material, often remain unnoticed themselves. Think about public statues. We pass next to them on the street, in the library, or at the university, in a museum, sometimes they are even part of the building that we live or work in. But unless they are contested, busts, monuments and other public sculptures done at one time for posterity remain unseen in our contemporary everyday life. Such an invisibility can have its advantages, of course. While being invisible, a ghost can sit and watch the life of others and thrill to it, without them knowing that it is there, until one gives them attention. One might, for example, attempt to talk to a ghost, as Thomas Geiger does in his performance series Bust Talks. There is, however, still no evidence that ghosts exist in public.
Thomas Geiger‘s Bust Talks are in a way contemporary séances that follow the decorum of a talk show. With the interview being his tool, Geiger investigates what the present might have in common with the past by questioning its witnesses. He treats objects as subjects and gives them attention that they otherwise would not receive. The protagonists in Bust Talks are not always angels; their study provides a lesson in confronting contradictions and looking at history from different perspectives. In specific episodes, the show is about how to talk to someone with whom you disagree – with Dr. Hans Klöpfer, understanding otherness and belonging – with Kifwebe, providing a stage for a reinterpretation of her story – with Mutter, imagining better futures – with Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, and revising ideas about the freedom of art and its usefulness – with Ludwig van Beethoven. Performance becomes here a stage for debate and discourse and a hospitable situation in which everybody can see and hear from different positions. Above all, Bust Talks make clear that if there is something that a guest, a ghost and a host have in common, it is how they all play into the process of the renegotiation of identity.
It is common knowledge that hospitality can take different directions and lead to different results. At its best, the act of hospitality is about self-othering, it is a counterforce to narcissism, and a process resulting in mutual recognition, that might lead to a transformation of the self. At its worst, however, hospitality is relation of power, a game of separating oneself from the other in multiple ways. It can manifest in an exertion of control over the guest out of fear about the loss of one’s power and identity. In practice the positions of guests and hosts constantly fluctuate. A guest can turn into a host, or into a ghost, who can once again turn into either guest or host, and again, forevermore.
Text by Mirela Baciak
*In 1953 Marcel Duchamp proposed a witty equation: A Guest + A Host = A Ghost indicating a somewhat magical merging of the two figures of hospitality into an entity between the self and other.