CAP Lecture Series: Esther Choi

Thursday, September 15, 2022 12pm to 1pm

1250 14th Street

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Lecturer: Esther Miriam Choi, Adjunct Associate Professor; 2022–23 Getty/ ACLS Postdoctoral Fellow, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Title: The Nature of the Beast

Thursday, September 15th 

12pm - 1pm 

CU Denver Building - 2nd floor main gallery 

Description: A pair of gorillas abducted from the Congo named Mok and Moina were two of the earliest residents of modern architecture in England. Although they were considered a novel attraction, most of the attention that accompanied their arrival was directed towards the modern house that was built for them. Commissioned by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Gorilla House (1932-33) by Tecton was considered a marvel of innovative design and technological advancement that far surpassed any building that had been built in England. For Peter Chalmers Mitchell, the commissioning Secretary of the ZSL, the London Zoo’s displays of living tokens of the British Empire attested to Britain’s colonial supremacy and the rigors of British techno-science. But for the evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley, Mitchell’s successor, the placement of modern architecture as a space for animal domestication was sociobiological in its constitution. Since the biological difference between gorillas and humans was one of degree, and not type, the house was a stage for a eugenic experiment based on environmental adaptation, which presumed that the reform of these non-human primates as surrogates for “savage man” could be applied to the “more advanced” British citizenry. While it may appear that the zoo grounds provided an unlikely canvas for modern architectural expression, the lecture explores the pressures that prompted the display of Mok and Moina’s exotic wildness in the most “civilized”, modernized, and troubling circumstances of captivity.

Biography: Esther Choi is an artist and architectural historian based in New York. Through her multidisciplinary practice and academic scholarship, her work explores the design and abstraction of nature, the cultural and environmental politics of worldmaking, and the intersections between art, design, and the biological sciences. In 2020, she founded Office Hours, an artist-run project which cultivates the sharing of liberatory worldmaking knowledge amongst artists, designers, scholars, and storytellers who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. She has received grants and fellowships for her work from the The Ford Foundation, Getty Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, Richard Rogers Fellowship, Graham Foundation, and Canada Council for the Arts, among others. Choi is the creator of the artist's book Le Corbuffet (Prestel, 2019) and coeditor of Architecture At the Edge of Everything Else (MIT Press, 2010) and Architecture Is All Over (Columbia U, 2017). Her writing has been published in Artforum, E-Flux Architecture, Art Papers, Journal of Architectural Education, Architectural Review, and SSENSE. She is a 2022 Getty/ ACLS Postdoctoral Fellow and an Adjunct Associate Professor at The Cooper Union.

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