2023 Architecture as Public Concern Lecture: Who is the Work For?

Talk, in English, Online, 26 September 2023, 2pm to 4pm

Samia Henni and Jay Pather in conversation

The inaugural Architecture as Public Concern Lecture marks the launch of the CCA Research Network, an entity that brings together alumni from almost four decades of research programs at the CCA. This annual lecture extends the theme of the Architecture as Public Concern Fellowship, which asks, in 2023, “Who is the Work For?” It also aligns with the CCA Research Network’s ambition to continue the conversations our Fellows began over the years, and to collectively chart the issues related to the global built environment that should be at the forefront of our work.

Participants in any of our Research programs since the CCA was founded are automatically enrolled in the Research Network. The annual Architecture as Public Concern Lecture will take place online and is open to the public.

The first lecture will be a dialogue between architectural historian Samia Henni and choreographer and scholar Jay Pather, who will examine how diverse communities can be invited into the process of architectural research, especially regarding urgent matters of public concern. Their conversation will address questions such as: Who counts in research and architecture? How does access operate? How might the concerns of varied publics be attended to, and in what ways might alternative publics be engaged?

The event will open with Henni and Pather sharing their research projects, described below, followed by a conversation moderated by CCA Research Network Steering Committee Members Arièle Dionne-Krosnick, Georgios Eftaxiopoulos, Nokubekezela Mchnu, Sara Stevens, and Huda Tayob.


Samia Henni on Performing Colonial Toxicity

Between 1960 and 1966, the French colonial regime detonated four atmospheric atomic bomb and thirteen underground nuclear bombs, in addition to conducting other nuclear experiments in the Algerian Sahara and extracting its natural resources in the process. The resulting toxification of the Sahara spread radioactive fallout across Algeria, North, Central and West Africa, and the Mediterranean, causing irreversible and still ongoing contaminations of living bodies, cells, and particles in the natural and built environments. Because the archives of the French nuclear program remain closed over fifty years later, historical details and continuing impacts remain largely unknown.

As part of the 2023 Architecture as Public Concern Lecture, Henni will discuss the upcoming exhibition Performing Colonial Toxicity at Framer Framed in Amsterdam (8 October 2023–14 January 2024), commissioned by If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be A Part Of Your Revolution. The exhibition emerges from a broader research project, which also includes the publication Colonial Toxicity: Rehearsing French Nuclear Architecture and Landscape in the Sahara and an open-access digital database, The Testimony Translation Project. Experimenting with different methods of spatializing and circulating suppressed information, the project’s three-part structure constitutes a powerful call to action to open still-classified archives and decontaminate the sites under consideration—both crucial steps for exposing the pasts, presents, and futures of colonial toxicity.

Jay Pather on Unmaking and Remaking Place: Cape Town’s Infecting the City Festival as a Space for Disrupting Apartheid Topography and Legacies

Public art—in particular its challenges, choices, and controversies—provides a useful barometer for considering the complexities in building a country such as South Africa as it attempts to heal a turbulent colonial and apartheid past. South Africa retains a seemingly unshakeable colonial topography that graphically demonstrates how access and ownership remain beyond reach for many of its inhabitants. Following this framework, Pather considers the successes and failures of Infecting the City Public Art Festival, a festival he curates in Cape Town. Acknowledging the effervescent space occupied by public art in probing the tenets of decoloniality and remaking place, he also looks at the challenges involved in opening spaces for political discourse, provocations, activism, and intimacy. He looks to art as a vital disruptor of topography, seeking to interfere with the anesthetic state and legacy of numbness that characterize the neoliberal project in South Africa.

Drawing from cultural theorist Achille Mbembe’s assertion that dreams are “sets of practices and modes of critique that allow life to erupt and in erupting to escape the state of matter in which structures of power, exploitation, and subjugation seek to confine it,” Pather examines the ability of public art to disrupt, disturb, and dream, allowing us glimmers—however fleeting—into how we may reconfigure access and power in urban spaces.

Please register to attend online.


Samia Henni is an architectural historian, exhibition maker, and educator. Working with textual and visual strategies, her practice interrogates histories of the built, destroyed, and imagined environment—particularly those produced by processes and mechanisms of colonization, forced displacement, nuclear weapons, resource extraction, and warfare. Henni’s research has culminated in the award-winning book Architecture of Counterrevolution: The French Army in Northern Algeria (2017, EN; 2019, FR) and Colonial Toxicity: Rehearsing French Radioactive Architecture and Landscape in the Sahara (2023), as well as in the editedvolumes War Zones (2018) and Deserts Are Not Empty (2022); and in exhibitions including Archives: Secret-Défense? (ifa Gallery/SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin, 2021), Housing Pharmacology (Manifesta 13, Marseilles, 2020) and Discreet Violence: Architecture and the French War in Algeria (Zurich, Rotterdam, Berlin, Johannesburg, Paris, Prague, Ithaca, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville, 2017–22). Currently, Henni is an invited Visiting Professor at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture, ETH Zurich. She has taught at Cornell University, Geneva University of Art and Design, Princeton University, and the ETH Zurich.

Jay Pather is a choreographer, curator and academic. Based in Cape Town, he is an Associate Professor and directs the Institute for Creative Arts at UCT, and also curates Infecting the City Public Art Festival and the ICA Live Art Festival. He also curates for Afrovibes in the Netherlands and for the Biennale of Body, Image, Movement in Madrid. Pather is curatorial adviser for Live Art for Season Africa 2020 in various cities in France and has co-curated for Spielart in Munich and has been Adjunct Curator for Performance at the Zeitz MOCAA. Recent residencies include the Festival of the Future City (United Kingdom), Independent Curators International (New York) and the Haus der Kunst (Munich). In 2019, he has published a book, Acts of Transgression: Contemporary Live Art in South Africa, with Catherine Boulle. Recent articles appear in Changing Metropolis, Rogue Urbanism, Performing Cities, and Where Strangers Meet. He chaired the jury for the recent International Award for Public Art, was appointed Fellow at the University of London, and was recently made Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in France.


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