Friday, July 20, 2012

JWTC seen from Pakistan

This year, the JWTC July Workshop hosted its first participant from Pakistan. Zahra Hussein studied architecture at Goldsmiths College, London, with Eyal Weizman. She went back to Pakistan where she is conducting a research on drone attacks, architecture and the law. She speaks to The Blog.

You attended your first session of the JWTC. How did you hear about the JWTC and what are the reasons that led you to apply to the 2012 Session?

I met Professor Achille Mbembe last year in London where he came to deliver a lecture at Birbeck College. I introduced myself and told him about my work. I was then conducting research on the architecture of counter-insurgency in Pakistan. He showed great interest in my research and, after further intellectual exchange, I learnt about his and his colleagues work especially regarding the JWTC. Learning more about the JWTC, it immediately became clear to me which to me that this
platform presented an alternative intellectual position removed from the ordinary East-West dichotomy that is so dominant in South Asia.

What are the events in this year's program that you enjoyed the most and why?

I really liked how the art shows were made part of the intellectual rationale of the workshop and curated. They were not conceived of as an illustration of theory. They were themselves instances of theory, modes of discourse and argumentation in their own right. They also made for lively viewing and constituted a powerful counterpoint to the entire experience. The first morning, we were taken for a tour of Johannesburg. The introduction to this major Southern Hemispheric city laid out information in a particular sequence and connected the historical strands to form a complete picture for the audience.

You were coming to Johannesburg for the first time. What are the features of the city that have been the most striking for you?

Johannesburg is, in a word, awesome. It is unlike many cities in Pakistan and yet, here and there, there are so many parallels. The fast evolution of the city and the social energy it generates - all of this is quite simply astounding. Of very particular interest is the fact that this peculiar city is very much constituted by what lies beneath its soil. The various forms of spatial segregations, whether based on class, race or otherwise, can still be mapped out easily. I was particularly interested in how segregation and security now morph into each other.

You just completed an important research on the architecture of counter-insurgency in Pakistan. What does the theme "Futures of Nature" may add to your topic?

Natural and climatic disasters present an intriguing parallel to (counter) insurgencies. They both affect and are themselves affected by space. They are both forms of agency. So while the titles of both topics might seem somewhat unrelated, there are actually many interweaving threads of inquiry linking them.

What are you currently working on and why?

I am currently involved with the Centre for Research Architecture. This is a fully-funded European Research Council project. We are doing research on the ways in which human rights are played out in the realm of architecture and the law. Alongside other things, we are currently looking at the drone attacks in Northwest Pakistan. Typically we examine situations (human rights violations) in which there is a high degree of spatial complexity due to a variety of factors (access to the space geographically, complex micro-infrastructures, diffusion of munitions used in perpetrating the violation etc.). We then map and model these situations in order to re-create a chain of events in relationship to a set of legal questions.