Collegium Helveticum

+/- 1632m: Disturbing the Swiss/African Commons


This is a public event. Participation is free of charge and registration is not required.

The idea of the commons has entered urban studies as a way to describe the shared resources that shape cities. In contrast with this positive view, histories of north-south extractivism show the territorialization of indigenous common lands and praxis. This event suggests a third, intersecting definition of a commons. Using transdisciplinary and cross-site studies, it explores how Western techné reshapes and disturbs the commons on the African continent, through acts of survey, settling and servicing the land. At the same time, the use of such techné might be reconsidered with a view to reparation.

The event takes place on the anniversary of an important day in Africa’s de-colonial history: the student uprisings against apartheid that began in Soweto on June 16, 1976. The event uses as its datum a typical domestic property, lying 1632m above sea level, that was impacted by three apparently unlinked, and little remarked on moments of Swiss technical practice. These dimensions will serve as a starting point to explore other aerial, terrestrial and sub-surface positions and disturbances, amplified through creative research, in conversations that reach towards the repair of the Commons at a planetary scale.

Three sessions will be bracketed by three artists projects created for this event, following the course of the day from sunrise to sunset in Soweto. We conclude with an apéro designed around Swiss/Basotho food histories. Together, they will offer new perspectives on these common histories.



Opening and welcome addresses

Sebastian Bonhoeffer
Collegium Helveticum


Moments of Silence for the youth of June 16


Panel I: What Makes a Swiss/African Commons?

Relations, interdependencies and Commons between Southern Africa and Switzerland

Rita Kesselring
University of St. Gallen, CH

Sectioning Colonial Architecture

Hanna le Roux
Collegium Helveticum


Panel II: Aerial Views on the Commons

Drones as Counter-Surveillance Tool in the Fight against Extractive Industries

Ignacio Acosta

From Above and Beyond: Exploring Drone Perspectives in Post-Apartheid Urban Design Discourse

Thomas Chapman


Panel III: Food Commons

Aural Oral: Listening as a Precursor to Response-Abilit

Grace Gloria Dennis

Hidden from the Naked Eye. Contamination within and beyond the Agricultural Landscapes of the United Fruit Company

Natalia Solana Meza


Tea and coffee break

Video projections, student work from gta seminar Contaminations (2023).
Zelda Frank, Clare He, Martin Kohlberger, Ninad Shroff


Panel discussion: Levelling Swiss/African histories

Tom Avermaete
ETH Zurich, CH

Samia Henni
ETH Zurich, CH

Sebastiaan Loosen
KTH Stockholm, SE

Rita Kesselring
University of St. Gallen, CH


Closing and small reception

Apéro design and realization by Grace Gloria Dennis
With a sound piece by Lineo Segoete: 
Litholoana (seeds/fruit trees/harvest/outcomes)


A Long Sun_rise

Nolan Oswald Dennis


This video installation presents an experimental framework for a cosmo-political memorial space. A Long Sun_rise reflects on the traumatic and liberatory history of the Soweto Uprising through a celestial spatio-temporal framework based on Southern Hemisphere celestial observations.

This experimental work uses the virtual telescope and celestial mapping tools from to reconstruct the early morning sky from June 16 1976. This sky is annotated with archival interviews, images and materials from Dennis’s Black Liberation Zodiac series.

This installation invites us to reflect on the entanglement of cosmic, geo-political and intimate scales as a site and model for a memorial practice. Guests are invited to visit the work throughout the day and sit with the longness of a day where time is measured in longing rather than duration.

Litte ja Goabddá [Drones and Drums]

Ignacio Acosta

Meridian hall
11:45–12:45 and 17:20–18:00

Archaeology of Sacrifice

Ignacio Acosta

Meridian hall
11:45–12:45 and 17:20–18:00

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