The experimental nonfiction film Grassland uses stop-motion animation, live action footage, text fragments, and expressive sound to excavate the stratigraphic layers of belief, ecology, practice, and geology that form a northeastern Colorado landscape. Carved out of decimated ranch lands during the Dust Bowl, the grassland is both a conservation zone and a working landscape. Cattle grazing, nuclear missiles, hydraulic fracturing, and wind power generation co-exist within a few miles of each other. Less explication than essay, the film locates the grassland in historic and geologic time, ranging over changing frameworks of law, ideology, and cosmology, variable and contradictory human practices, and the material and geological forces of the land itself. Meditative original footage of the grassland merges with collage animations created from diagrams, drawings, and found photography to portray the refuge’s subterranean activities, from well drilling to missile storage to soil sedimentation. The resulting nineteen-minute film is a poetic and unsettling portrait of a complex, evolving place.
Sarah Kanouse, “Grassland,” experimental nonfiction film, HD video, 19 minutes 15 second, 2019.
The catalogue to the competition and exhibition “Monument to Cold War Victory,” conceived by Yevgeniy Fiks and Stamatina Gregory, was released September 30 from The Cooper Union. Distributed through SPD, the catalog documents all winning entries, including the National TLC Service’s National Cold War Monuments and Environmental Heritage Trail, and features essays by Yevgeniy Fiks and Stamatina Gregory, Boris Groys, Nina Khrushcheva, and Joes Segal. Other artists include Yuri Avvakumov, Aziz + Cucher, Kim Beck, Constantin Boym, Camel Collective (Anthony Graves and Carla-Herrera Prats), Sasha Chavchavadze, Christoph Draeger, Deyson Golbert, Francis Hunger, Szabolcs KissPál, Angelo Plessas, Lisi Raskin, Dread Scott, Dolsy & Kant Smith, Société Réaliste, and Michael Wang.
Fiks, Yevgeniy and Stamatina Gregory, eds. Monument to Cold War Victory. New York: The Cooper Union, 2018: 100-103.
The National TLC Service is participating in a group exhibition about the now-closed Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility just outside of Denver. Curated by Jeff Gipe, Facing Rocky Flats features works by local, national, and international artists and documentary photographers. The exhibition runs in the Canyon Gallery at the Boulder Public Library April 7-June 20, 2018 and travels to the Denver Public Library August 26-October 31, 2018. Jeff Gipe is preparing a book project that will also feature work from the exhibition.
The National TLC Service was also the subject of a published art history graduate thesis by Joseph Stussi, of the University of New Mexico. Entitled “Living with Our Toxic Legacy,” it appeared in the journal Hemispheres: Visual Cultures of the Americas, vol. 11, no. 1 (2018): 54-76.
“A People’s Atlas of the Nuclear United States” is a digital public humanities project that documents and interprets the relational geographies of nuclear materials used by the United States military. The Atlas is structured to articulate scalar relationships – from the planetary to the corporeal – and to simultaneously present cartographic, textual and image-based information in order to foster active interpretation on the part of its users.
The pilot phase of the online project focuses on the state of Colorado, which contains sites and processes representing all stages of the nuclear cycle. Through the initial geographic lens of Colorado, the Atlas seeks to infuse nuclear public policy and public memory discussions with humanistic forms of inquiry that address the materiality of nuclear production, political history, and environmental ethics. More than another clickable map, the Atlas articulates and interprets local embodied experiences, regional material-environmental politics, and their global and intergenerational consequences, thereby making visible what remains a hidden legacy not only of environmental devastation but also of community resilience.
The multiple functions of the Atlas are inherently interdisciplinary and call for collaboration among scholars, designers, digital humanists, and environmental and community organizations. Questions traditionally bound to specific disciplines are better answered using a broad set of lenses: How can geographical and historical inquiry into the nuclear weapons complex precipitate new insights into the relationships between location, security, harm, intervention, and public action? How can methods developed by geographers, artists, and digital humanists stimulate public memory work that is both more engaging and more nuanced? What forms of interactivity, interface, and representation allow stakeholders and scholars to collaboratively address the past and future of nuclear sites?
The National Toxic Land/Labor Conservation Service is an art and research project taking the form of a wishful federal agency dedicated to the vigilant detection and continual exposition of the domestic effects of the American nuclear state. Established by fictive legislation in 2011, the Service is charged with developing cultural programs that address domestic issues of environmental justice, labor, and human rights related to U.S. military activities. Freely mixing satire and sincerity, we devise speculative projects using an aesthetic of bureaucratic camp. Our primary initiative is the creation of the speculative National Cold War Monuments and Environmental Heritage Trail. Additionally, we conduct tours, site visits, and reviews of Cold War heritage sites as they are currently interpreted, and we present widely on our organizational mission and activities.
In recent years a number of artists have produced works that are tours or ask the viewer to become a tourist. Much of this work presents itself as ‘critical,’ despite decades of scholarship examining tourism as a means of shoring up social class membership, naturalizing ideas of national patrimony, reinforcing the centrality of the Western gaze, and reproducing images of the exotic Other. This paper explores how touristic forms might be deployed in an oppositional, self-reflexive way that is responsive to how the experience of tourism is mediated by politics, economics, and cultural frameworks. For all the ways that conventional touristic learning might be superficial, marketized, and insulated by privilege, tourism is one cultural site where people expect to learn and seek out new knowledge about place. As such, tourism—both as an art and leisure pursuit—has rich potential as a form of performative, place-based pedagogy.
Kanouse, Sarah. “Critical Daytrips.” In Emily Eliza Scott and Kirsten J. Swenson, eds. Critical Landscapes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015, 43-56.
The goal of this workshop is to create conditions where students evolve conceptually and aesthetically. The workshop prepares students to interpret their culture in terms of new languages of representation. In particular, students gain critical skills in analyzing established visual languages and are encouraged to produce and perform such languages. Students learn to merge scholarly practices with workshop practices, thus challenging the barriers between so-called academic and creative areas. The work involves hands-on experience in production of video art, performance, and installation, as well as the creation of objects.
“Sarah is a wonderful instructor – she is encouraging and is capable of giving thoughtful feedback to all students. As a mentor, educator, and artist her engagement with the community and greater sociopolitical issues makes her an asset to undergraduates, graduates, the university, and Iowa City.” (Fall 2014)
“Sarah created a vigorous and collegial learning environment which encouraged me to think about my work more critically. I espeically appreciated her attention to community-building – through announcements, field trips – and deep commitment to creating a space to discuss and reflect on what’s going on outside the classroom walls.” (Fall 2014)
“Sarah is an excellent discussion leader and I deeply admire her ability to keep conversation focused but also allow it to organically expand from the voices of the students. This class had a combination of incredibly smart and invested students and an authoritative voice like Sarah that facilitated and propelled critiques.” (Spring 2014)
“Interviewing each other was a wonderful part of the class! Thanks also for requiring snacks – I feel like we built a strong community and I’m leaving this term with a stronger network of artists/friends/colleagues and a sense of how my work fits into a larger art context.” (Spring 2014)
“I have really enjoyed this class both for the quality of the discussion and the ways in which it has pushed my artistic practice in a new direction. Through the course of this semester I was able to begin a wholly new kind of investigation and shape it into a well-formed finished product due in large part of Prof. Kanouse’s structure of the course, the way that discussions throughout the class were focused on forming ideas into artistic products, and the specific feedback I received in my critiques.” (Spring 2013)
“In my time here as a graduate student, no other instructor has been as critical, helpful, and/or supportive of both my practice and my life as the instructor for this course has been. In the past 3 years I have felt like I have grown not only as an artist, but as a person in a very positive and affirming way.” (Spring 2013)
“Sarah not only challenges us to create original thoughtful work, but to engage in a dialogue that extends beyond the purely art/aesthetic…Sarah always has constructive feedback for students – often leading them to helpful texts or referencing contemporary artists/movements that would be beneficial to look towards. I thoroughly enjoyed the course.” (Spring 2013)
“I like the balance between structure and student-directed material – having peers pick/present readings relevant to their work helped give me context on where they were coming from as well as expose me to material unfamiliar to me. Sarah’s knowledge and astute criticisms encourage us to do the same – the class is very helpful for my development.” (Spring 2013)
“This class gave me the room to grow and learn from other artists. I developed a more critical eye for what the objectives are in my work.” (Spring 2012)
“The course overall helped me to develop a new framework for thinking about my practice.” (Spring 2012)
“In general, your effort makes the class and that much is evident. Thanks for your work” (Fall 2010)
“It has been a pleasure working with Sarah Kanouse. As a grad student in my final year, working with her has been a highlight of my art career at Iowa. She has offered rigorous courses/coursework and presents exciting ideas in the field of contemporary art…She is a smart, articulate teacher and an interesting artist who pushes students through critical feedback and dialogue in the classroom.” (Fall 2009)
“This has been an outstanding course from start to finish. I very much enjoy the academic challenge level of this course. Sarah sets high expectations for her students to know why their work is meaningful and how it fits into a larger social context. I found the critiques to be very beneficial to my work. Sarah has a wonderful ability to validate all students’ work, but also to challenge them to take it to an even more complex and academically solid place. Students pick up on this and emulate this – which results in a very positive environment.” (Fall 2009)
“I am very impressed by Ms. Kanouse’s ability to insightfully critique work of students from a wide range of disciplines. Her criticism was always thoughtful, constructive and well-balanced. She was able to bring her vast knowledge of current art trends and processes to the table to enrich the critique environment.” (Fall 2008)
“A good workshop class! I like the diversity of discussion and the lively participation. Sarah does a good job of keeping everyone on task and moving the conversation forward.” (Fall 2008)
Re-collecting Black Hawk is a book-length, image-text essay exploring the cultural and political landscapes of the Midwest. It brings together roughly one hundred seventy photographs of historical markers and monuments, organizations, sports teams, consumer products, businesses, parks, subdivisions and other places that reference the 19th century Sauk leader Makataimeshekiakiak, more commonly known as Black Hawk. These photographs are arranged geographically and organized into chapters by state (Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin). Each image is paired with an appropriated text drawn from sources as wide ranging as press releases and scholarly histories, government reports and advertisements, and poetry and recipes published in tribal newspapers. Interwoven throughout are contributions by and interviews with activists, scholars, and tribal officials, who, in some cases, reflect on the image-text strategy and, in other cases, ground it in specific, current struggles around decolonization, self-determination, and cultural revitalization.
Re-Collecting Black Hawk is both a call and an attempt to practice landscape differently. It proceeds by staging a series of encounters between image and text, each with different implications in the realm of political imagination. The book’s title suggests holds a double meaning. In the most literal sense, it connotes the remembering of something past. The hyphen, however, hints at another, more active meaning. To re-collect is to gather again or to collect anew in the present. Or, following Bruno Latour, to re-collect is to reassemble Black Hawk to account the disconnect between past and present, absence and presence.
Released May 2015 by Pittsburgh University Press. See book website for excerpts and more information.
Hands-on digital media production class for non-art majors! Learn media storytelling skills by shooting and editing high-definition video, using still images and found footage, and enhancing your productions with sound. Grounded by key screenings, projects explore video as a medium for personal and group storytelling. Students will work in community settings and creatively engage the University of Iowa’s themed semester. Video cameras will be provided.
This workshop supports study and production in the media arts, including digital video, sound, installation/performance, and Internet and new media art, for students with a range of experience with media technologies. Conceptual development is stressed through regular readings and screenings, while technology skills are built in hands-on workshops using a range of media production equipment and platforms. In class and short-term projects lead to the development of a significant final piece of work that may relate to students’ ongoing creative interests.
Among Surrealist techniques exploiting the mystique of accident was a kind of collective collage of words or images called the cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse). Based on an old parlor game, it was played by several people, each of whom would write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold the paper to conceal part of it, and pass it on to the next player for his contribution.”
–William S. Rubin
Each pair will have a week to create a video exquisite corpse, using the camera to record images grounded in a specific point of view and individual, subjective position. Use the camera’s manual functions in an intentional and controlled way, developing fluency with exposure and focus controls such that technical “imperfections” are clearly intentional, expressive effects.
Over the next two weeks, each individual will shoot and edit three distinct but related videos of exactly twenty seconds each. The trio should have a unifying visual or conceptual theme (such as “time,” “pattern,” or even something silly like “fruit”) that is dealt with in three distinct ways. Each twenty second video should feel ‘complete,’ with a distinct beginning, middle, and end, and include a minimum of three shots. Create one video around each of the following:
Informal voiceover or conversational exchange
Reading of appropriated text
Images/sounds only, with no spoken text
Note: The precise length of each video in this assignment varied each semester, from 12-30 seconds
This assignment asks students to tune into the aesthetic potential of sound composition while introducing fundamentals of field recording and audio composition. Variations have included audio ‘postcards’ – descriptive and evocative dispatches from a specific place, ‘sound stories’ – narratives in which the visual is subordinate to the sound, and thematic, collaborative sound investigations.
Naoki Izumo (MFA, Intermedia) and Jared Jewell (BFA, Intermedia), “Manufacturing War,” Fall 2014.
Erica Blair (BFA, Intermedia), “Abstract Audio Postcard,” Fall 2012.
Derek Blackman (BFA, Photography), “Anxiety,” Spring 2011.
Student Work: Installation
The class sometimes includes an installation component, especially when paired with Intermedia’s public Fall Showcase event. Due to space limitations, the students have only one week to develop the installation component.
“This class has been the most pertinent in developing my artistic awareness in the world around me and what I am doing as an artist. Thank you for helping me develop, Sarah.” (Fall 2014)
“I was encouraged to do something I always wanted to do. It is a good chance for me to know and show who I really am.” (Fall 2014)
“Sarah does an excellent job balancing learning of technical craft skills with conceptual, historical, and contemporary trends of video/sound art. I appreciate her knowledge of artists and art and weaves that info throughout the semester into both class group and individual work. I feel much more comfortable in media equipment and editing software now.” (Fall 2013)
“Your knowledge and passion for the craft is evident and inspired (inspiring) me to do my best!” (Fall 2013)
“This was a wonderful class. Not only did I learn the technical skills necessary for video/audio art, I also learned a lot about artists working in this way, and I was inspired by them. You did an excellent job of balancing course content/expectations for people with a lot of background in this and students with no background at all.” (Fall 2012)
“In comparison with some instructors, Sarah assumes a lot of work from the students; however, I’ve found that I try to be more creative because of it.” (Fall 2012)
“I really enjoyed the structure of the class. I was able to learn most of what I needed to begin quickly and really focus on what I wanted to do. I am planning on taking the course again next semester and hope to do a lot of independent research.” (Spring 2012)
“Professor Kanouse is incredibly smart and generous with her time. This class helped me a lot with my art work and both she and the rest of the class gave me great feedback. The class is challenging, much more so than other classes I have taken in the school of art. I would definitely take this class again. There was a good balance of theory and practical learning and service learning (with our class-curated exhibition). This is a great class.” (Spring 2012)
“The material in this course is super interesting but the class is really intense. Sarah is super smart and ambitious as an instructor.” (Fall 2011)
“This class was very challenging, technically and conceptually. The instructor has high expectations but it seems to make everyone work much harder. This was a great class.” (Fall 2011)
“Great class, well organized, very dedicated instructor.” (Fall 2010)
“I really enjoyed this course. It was often fast-paced, with introduction to several computer programs with projects/assignments due the following week. This made learning the programs a self-guided venture – I would have appreciated more time working on computers in class, though extremely detailed instructional handouts did help…Nevertheless, I learned and feel proficient with so much more than I previous was, and feel I can now work independently on similar audio and video projects, which is of great value to me.” (Fall 2010)
“Sarah is an extremely organized and well spoken teacher. She cares deeply about the course and her students at large. Sarah has been an exceptionally valuable part of my graduate studies and as a result I will be minoring in this area. I hope to continue working with her throughout my time here. Thank you Sarah for all of your help, support, and insight.” (Spring 2010)
“If I could give one piece of advice to entering graduate students, it would be to take a class with Sarah Kanouse. Her courses are engaging and she will inspire you to create your strongest work. Sarah clearly loves teaching and is committed to seeing students of all interests/ability levels succeed.” (Spring 2010)