Work (and being-in-progress) in the coronavirus year

Cutout of a medical illustration of human lungs against a warped rendering of a galactic formation. A drawn image of a bat is superimposed on the lungs.
Work in progress still from “Coronaura,” an animated video essay reckoning with white femininity, racism, and ecocide in a year of covid

How strange, contingent, and small one’s individual professional accomplishments feel in a world both upended and exposed by the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve refrained from posting here for more than a year, during which time I’d mourned, read, marched, listened, delivered food, worried, rejoiced, mourned, taught, and learned. Covid has only revealed new dimensions of what bell hooks famously called “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy,” which is always also ecocidal. Here are some of the modest ways my writing and artwork have sought to address this long emergency, one year into coronavirus.

  • I made To All To Whom These Presents Shall Come, Greetings, a new short essay film and companion set of ten cards exploring property as an Anthropocenic phenomenon for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s exhibition The Current. The show opened on October 26 and closed after only one week due to a second wave of German coronavirus lockdowns
  • Ecologies of Acknowledgment, a 2019 project with Nicholas Brown, has been exhibited at the Tufts University Art Galleries at the Medford Campus since September 2020. In October, we did a series of talks on campus, including a panel with Nia Holley and Kristen Wyman (both Nipmuc) and Faries Gray and Elizabeth Solomon (both Massachusett) challenging institutions to go beyond mere acknowledgment and into right relation with the Indigenous peoples whose lands they occupy
  • In December, the journal Passapartout published “Common Tensions,” an epistolary essay written with Nicholas Brown reflecting on our efforts to “common” our relationship to his family’s land in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area

I’m currently working on another collaboration with Elizabeth Solomon and Nicholas Brown, a sound piece lifting up Massachusett Indigenous perspectives for the 2021 auditory public art installation, Sound on Mystic. Nick and I also have a forthcoming essay on anti-racism in the Anthropocene in Anthropocene Review. Image on this post is from a short video essay I’ve been working on, tentatively entitled Coronaura, that reckons with white femininity in a year of violence both fast and slow.

To All To Whom These Presents Shall Come, Greetings

Composite image showing forest inset in two overlapping rectangles inside a purple-tinted antique map
Sarah Kanouse, still from “To All to Whom These Presents Shall Come, Greetings,” 2020

Property subtends the Anthropocene. Modern European property theory rests on colonization and chattel slavery—inseparable institutions that bound far-flung continents, ecologies, and people in brutally unequal relations. Property-thought and an ideology of improvement suffuse Western subjectivity. The imagined political community of liberal democracies is still marked by a tradition limiting full citizenship to property-owning, self-possessive individuals. This same ideology can be traced across such disparate phenomena as HGTV reality shows, middle-class health and wellness fads, the “stand your ground” laws that cost Trayvon Martin his life, and opposition to regulations that might stave off climate catastrophe. In the Anthropocene, what Black Panther Huey P. Newton called “survival pending revolution” demands moving beyond the stranglehold of property-thought to embody more porous and accountable ways of relating to land, people, more-than-human beings, and ourselves.

A continuation of the artist’s book, Beyond Property, this short essay film and series of ten prompts offers the audience directions to think beyond a property paradigm in relating to the more-than-human world in a moment of rapid geo-eco-social transformation. The film is based on conversations with Bill Quackenbush, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer of the Ho-Chunk Nation, and inspired by the woods and meadows of my family’s 160-acre parcel of land in Wisconsin.

Created for the HKW’s exhibition “The Current” in conjunction with the Fall 2020 seminar “The Shape of a Practice.” Additional cards created as companions to the booklets Field Guides to the Anthropocene Drift produced in 2019 by Ryan Griffis, Heather Parrish and Corinne Teed.

Download printable prompt cards (84 mb, pdf)

Blackhawk Park is Indigenous Land (Beyond Acknowledgment

A picnic shelter frames a view of a bench looking out on a river. Two tan and green cloth banners hang from the shelter reading "Meet you here" and "Upon our lands"
Banners from Dylan Miner’s project “The Land is Always” installed on the banks of the Mississippi River at the opening event programming for Anthropocene Drift, September 25, 2019. by Katie Netti/Meredith Dallas

The effects of the Anthropocene are not experienced evenly, and some are hit far harder than others. The seminar Over the Levee, Under the Plow took as its starting point one of these spaces: Blackhawk Park, a “wounded place” where the colonial ties of the Anthropocene become painfully palpable. While histories on settler colonization all too often treat it as a thing of the past, this essay, co-written with Ryan Griffis and Nicholas Brown, revises our opening statement from the seminar asking participants to consider their/our own implication in the settler colonial dimensions of the climate crisis.

See Blackhawk Park Is Indigenous Land (Beyond Acknowledgment) on Anthropocene Curriculum

Animate Landscapes

Composite of two animation images. On the left is a white man on horseback near a monument splattered with oil, on the right is a handdrawn mountain
Composite publicity image featuring stills from Annapurna Kumar and Sarah Kanouse

The escalating climate crisis is making visible what was always true: no neat boundary exists between human and more-than-human worlds. “Nature” is a social fiction turned material fact, used to justify everything from resource extraction to wilderness preservation to racial hierarchies. The land and organisms we shape become the contours of our world. They form the basis of all sustenance, imprint themselves in our psyches, undergird the built environment, and enliven cultural narratives. This 90-minute collection of experimental media explores the bio-geo-social lives of the land and its actors, both human and more-than, through a range of experimental approaches, including meditation, animation, documentation, collage, and performance.

Core Films

The Bear in the Valley, Deke Weaver, 2019, 38:00

Grassland, Sarah Kanouse, 2019, 19:20

Rotating Short Media Selections

Dear Climate, Hello Virus, 2012, 5:46

Kelly Gallagher, Ceallaigh at Kilmainham, 2013, 7:14

Tia-Simone Gardner, There’s Something in the Water, 2019, 6:12

Julia Hechtman, Double Blind, 2017, 2:35

Heidi Kumao, Swallowed Whole, 2014, 4:06

Annapurna Kumar, Mountain Castle Mountain Flower Plastic, 2017, 3:08

Anna Luisa Petrisko, In The Tree, 2017, 3:48

Vanessa Renwick, The Mighty Tacoma, 2011, 9:11

Corinne Teed, Feral Utopias, 2015, 7:00

Marina Zurkow, Hydrocarbons, 2011, 2:32

Screening History

Strikethrough indicates Coronavirus cancellation

Nightingale Cinema, Chicago, IL – May 21, 2020

Cellular Cinema, Minneapolis, MN -May 17, 2020 – guest curated by Corinne Teed

Northwest Film Center, Portland, OR – May 14, 2020

Echo Park Film Center, Los Angeles, CA – April 11, 2020

Rhizome DC, Washington, DC – October 12, 2019

Public Space One, Iowa City, IA – September 30, 2019

Anthropocene River Reflections

A crowd of people gather outdoors beneath oopen-sided tent
Gathering in Moraine: Terminal space at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, September 26, 2019.

After a year and a half of research, making, and organizing, Mississippi: An Anthropocene River wrapped up this November with the week-long “River Campus” in New Orleans. I was working with Ryan Griffis and Nicholas Brown on Field Station 2/Anthropocene Drift; our public program took place September 25-29. At the River Campus convocation in New Orleans, Nick, Ryan, and I offered some reflections on our program that included audio clips from some of our tours and described what we believe to be the political potentials opened up by really grappling with settler colonialism. These reflections have been combined with elements of the framing text we delivered at the opening of our seminar as Blackhark Park is Indigenous Land (Beyond Acknowledgment) over on our Medium page.

Additionally, I’ve contributed a few pieces of writing and media documenting some of the seminar events over on the Anthropocene Curriculum website: a reflection on Randy Poelma’s tour of Maa Wacacak, the Ho-Chunk land restoration at a former ammunition plant, and a video interview with Adrian Pochel of the Chi-Nations Youth Council, which spoke on the seminar’s concluding day in Saukenuk (Rock Island, IL).

Anthropocene Drift

Anthropocene Drift was a 18-month research-creation platform sited in the Driftless area of Wisconsin and spreading into Western Illinois undertaken in collaboration with Nicholas Brown and Ryan Griffis as part of Mississippi: An Anthropocene River. The territory is characterized by two distinct landscapes: the Driftless Area, defined by scenic hills and bluffs and spared from the effects of the Wisconsinan Glaciation, and the Corn Belt, defined by endless expanses of predominantly flat and rectilinear fields of monocrops. The geological histories that produced the striking topographical differences between these landscapes made colonization, settlement, and agriculture play out differently, which affects how these regions may far in the climate and cultural changes of the present and near-futures.

Anthropocene Drift produced three public-facing projects.  Field Guides to the Anthropocene Drift is a series of artful guidebooks, each responding to a different cultural and/or scientific aspect of the Anthropocene in this geographical region. The second component of the Field Station is Over the Levee, Under the Plow, a four day mobile symposium that positions the agro-engineering of rural America within the broader framework of settler colonialism in order to attend to the historical, political and epistemic roots of the agricultural and environmental crisis. The third is Moraine/Terminal, a mobile gathering space and library that accompanied the symposium on its winding journey. Unfolding in small towns around the Mississippi River, the program brings together agroecologists, Native leaders, local residents, international scholars for a series of events, tours, and small group discussions to better understand the origins of the present landscape and to build alliances for more just and sustainable alternatives.

Credits

Nicholas Brown, Ryan Griffis, Sarah Kanouse, Field Station 2: Anthropocene Drift, with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and Goethe Institute, Chicago.

Recent Grassland Screenings and Awards

Still from Grassland with text "The plow will go forward"
Still from Grassland

Completed in early 2019, my experimental nonfiction short film “Grassland” has screened internationally in festival and microcinema spaces. It premiered in the Experiments in Cinema festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico before going on to the Twisted Oyster Film and Media Festival in Kefalia, Greece; Cineautopsia in Bogotá, Colombia; the Artists’ Forum Festival of the Moving Image in New York City; and, upcoming in 2020, the Black Maria Film Festival and Big Muddy Film Festival. The piece also picked up the Juror’s Citation at the Black Maria, Best Cinematography at the Artists’ Forum, and an honorable mention from the Los Angeles Experimental Forum. As an inter/extradisciplinary artist who only occasionally makes films, I’m deeply honored to have my work celebrated in these venues.

My Electric Genealogy

Woman in man's dress shirt and tie with elegant 1930s hat looks upward toward her raised finger before a projection of arcing electricity and a vintage photo of a woman in a similar hat
Composite performance still, “My Electric Genealogy,” 2020

For nearly forty years my grandfather designed, planned, and managed the spider-vein network of lines connecting Los Angeles to its distant sources of electric power.  From the 1930s until his retirement as general manager of the LA Department of Water and Power in 1972, my grandfather made a second family of the grid and its substations, converters, and interties, photographing these monuments of the modern everyday with one foot in the aesthetic and another in the techno-scientific sublime. When he died, he left behind images of transmission towers along with snapshots of birthdays and family Christmases, inspiring me to re-imagine the electric grid as populated by non-human ‘uncles’ and ‘cousins’ whose names I should know and whose legacies will pass to my child.

My Electric Genealogy is an original, 90-minute solo performance that proceeds from this imaginative re-reading of my family tree. It combines live storytelling with still and moving images, choreographed movement, and an original score to make intimate the crumbling, carbon-heavy infrastructures that imperil the planet and to probe the aesthetic, ethical, and practical responses they demand.  These systems include not just power plants and transmission lines, but also ‘infrastructures of feeling:’ closely held beliefs about nature, gender, race, and progress. Wearing a midcentury men’s suit, I alternately embody my grandfather, my grandmother, my teenaged-self, my professional-self, and my parent-self to seek intergenerational responsibility. What does it mean to raise another human being in a climate-ravaged world, and can that act of social reproduction become a project of social and political transformation?

Bookended by the 99 years that separate my grandfather’s birth and my daughter’s, the performance charts both the specific trajectory of Los Angeles’s development from the early twentieth century to the present.  While set in Los Angeles, the story addresses the broader cultural, political, and ecological imagination—from the modernist optimism that built the Hoover Dam to ideas about urban sustainability that lead the city to divest its share of the Navajo Generating Station in 2016.  Reframing the power grid as a dynamic entity that connects diverse and unequally vulnerable communities, I ask how an ethics of care and mutual obligation might animate the response to environmental crises of the past, present, and future.

Trailer

Excerpt

Credit

Sarah Kanouse, My Electric Genealogy, performance, work-in-progress anticipated 2020.

Sound by Jacob Ross and Beau Kenyon

National TLC @ Krannert Art Museum

Banners by National TLC Service
National TLC Service installation in 2016 exhibition at Colorado College.

National TLC Service publications, brochures, and banners are on display as part of the reading room for Hot Spots: Radioactivity and the Landscape at the Krannert Art Museum, running from October 17, 2019 – March 21, 2020. The exhibition, originally curated by Joan Linder and Jennie Lamensdorf for the University at Buffalo, features work by Naomi Bebo, Jeremy Bolen, Michael Brill and Safdar Abidi, Edward Burtynsky, Erich Berger and Mari Keto, Ludovico Centis, Elizabeth Demaray, Nina Elder, Isao Hashimoto, Adele Henderson, Abbey Hepner, Eve Andrée Laramée, Cynthia Madansky and Angelika Brudniak, Amie Siegel, Robert del Tredici, Claudia X. Valdes, and Will Wilson.

For more information, see Krannert Art Museum News.

Field Guide to the Anthropocene Drift: Beyond Property

Beyond Property Book Cover
Book Cover, Beyond Property (2019)

It is no accident that the development of modern European property theories also coincide with colonization and chattel slavery; indeed, they functioned both to justify and to motivate these practices, further driving geoplanetary transformations. These ideas undergird the everyday, Gramscian “common sense” of property: exclusive ownership by a self-possessive individual, legitimated by acts of “improvement” in terms legible to capital. This same ideology animates both the transformation of working-class apartments into luxury condos and right-wing opposition to the regulations that might mitigate climate catastrophe. In many ways, surviving the Anthropocene demands coming to grips with property, and fast.

More concretely, this book also orients readers to the landscapes of property in a particular place—the hilly, unglaciated or “Driftless” area of southwest Wisconsin—for a particular occasion: an experimental seminar offered in September 2019 as part of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s Mississippi: An Anthropocene River. It therefore interleaves more theoretical or (trans)national historical essays with accounts of how property has been practiced—and where it breaks down—in this corner of the rural Midwest. For example, it is illuminating to examine, with Cheryl Harris, how whiteness operates politically and cul- turally as a type of property. Applying this analysis to the racial violence faced by the Arms family and their white “race traitor” neighbor in 1960s Wisconsin allows us to grasp the lived textures of the race-property-nature nexus in an entirely different way. The varied, local experiences of what Eli Elinoff and Tyson Vaughan dub the “quotidian Anthropocene” highlight both the unevenness and relationality of planetary ecological transformations that the universalizing term tends to obscure.

Beyond Property book cover

Beyond Property is an artful field guide to the proposition that property is a key technology of the Anthropocene. At once theoretical and grounded, the booklet combines excerpts from key critical texts on property with collaged images built of observational sketches of the land and its constitutive elements (rocks, minerals), plat drawings, and bank security patterns.

Risographic cover printed at Spudnik Press, Chicago. Interior printed at Mission Press, Chicago.

Download PDF – 33 MB

Credit

Sarah Kanouse, Beyond Property, 2019. Part of Field Guides to the Anthropocene Drift, published by Field Station 2 with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and the Goethe Institute, Chicago.