Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum
Leaping Out: Landscape, Becoming-Revolutionary, and the Yet-to-Be
Response essay for keynote address by Jean-Pierre Bekolo
Panel: Africa’s Speculative Futures and New Imaginaries
For the AFRICAN FUTURES CONFERENCE at GOETHE JOHANNESBURG
29 October 2015
On the connections between thought and landscape, Yi-Fu Tuan proposes that landscape ‘appears to us through an effort of the imagination exercised over a highly selected array of sense data’ (Tuan 1979:90). Furthermore, continues Tuan, landscape ‘allows and even encourages us to dream. It does function as a point of departure’ (Tuan 1979:101). What ‘sense data’ might I employ in my own landscape construction? And how could this construction of an imaginary landscape serve as a ‘point of departure’ for accessing new utopianisms? Finally, how does all this imagining activate a becoming-revolutionary?
I will refer to two ideas put forward by Gerald Gaylard in his essay ‘After Colonialism: African Postmodernism and Magical Realism’ (2005) as a means of locating the radical role of imagination in creative praxis. Gaylard proposes that if ‘we view the imagination as a more radical reaction against or difference from reality…the imagination will be less an already known than an irruption of a radical newness or alterity’ (emphasis added) (Gaylard 2005:2). If I accept, as Gaylard suggests, that for artists the imagination ‘consists of both the real and the yet-to-become real (emphasis added) (2005:2), then these processes of imagining and even the fabulative function of this imagining ‘defines its political task’ (Koyuncu 2008:52). The would-be visitors to Hakim Bey’s Port Watson were triggered by his travel pamphlet to imagine utopianism. Bey’s subsequent response was a further summoning: an invitation to imagine that Port Watson exists within them– exists in the place they are in their mind when they imagine Port Watson is real. Perhaps my installation, then, might operate as a further amplification of this summoning. Perhaps the installation might feature topographical maps, ethnographic photography, field recordings, ecological charts, geological diagrams and other visual classification devices that may partially reveal intimate, scientific, historical and cosmological renderings of the island. However, instead of fixing Port Watson within any specific rendering, these partial sightings of Port Watson would create a ‘mobile terrain’ –something I might call an imaginal territory: a landscape with as many iterations and possibilities as there are imaginings of it.
With this mobile terrain in mind, and by way of conclusion, I would like to return to Shukaitis once again and his description of ‘The Imaginal Machine’ (Shukaitis 2009:108). The Imaginal Machine, according to Shukaitis, is a mythopoetic device that nourishes ‘resistant imagery.’ He proposes that the power of The Imaginal Machine ‘is not necessarily based on the feasibility of enacting the ideas contained within it, but rather in acting as a compositional point for collective social desires’ (2009:108). The ‘resistant imagery’ nourished by The Imaginal Machine is further described by Stephen Duncombe’s ‘Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy’ (2007). Duncombe writes: ‘In an age of fantasy, our developing ability to understand, intervene and work within the flows of imaginal desires is precisely the ability to think through a collective radical politics despite and perhaps because of the ambivalence that the desires of the multitude contains’ (Duncombe cited in Shukaitis 2009:108). For my purposes then, the Port Watson installation might be a kind of Imaginal Machine. The Imaginal Machine is the device of the radical future and it houses all manner of stratagem for the ‘becoming-other of the future.’ It is a future, a yet-to–be that has occupied the collective imagination.
image: Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum presenting at AFRICAN FUTURES CONFERENCE, Goethe Institut, Johannesburg 29 October 2015 (image courtesy of Jessica Dickson)