There are two signs at the side of the road leading away from Salem. The first reads: ‘Welcome to Frontier Country’. And the second: ‘Potholes ahead’. This is a recurring image in Simon Gush’s work and – given our location in Makhanda/Grahamstown, a space and site of collapsing afterlives and infrastructures in stark and particularly disturbing intensities – it suggests that the call for and obligation to think differently is both relevant and necessary for new directions of research and practice in the arts and in the academy.
Instead of potholes, chasms have opened up before us: the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, states of disaster, police brutality and mass protests against the racism that that brutality exposes … conflict, contagion, isolation, containment, confinement. How does one find one’s bearings in times like this?
Locked down, but pursuing – if warily – lines of flight enabled in this new era of digital technologies, Sounding the Land listens back across the ground of 200 years to find our bearings now, in 2020. This year is a paradox, ominous, threatening and yet full of possibility. We venture here into that space, and encourage you to think, with Walter Benjamin, how the storm called ‘progress’ has propelled us into a future that we had turned our backs to as the pile of debris before us grew skyward across the last two centuries.