Native Space: Headwaters and Homelands

Closeup of vintage map showing Upper and Lower Mystic Ponds
Closeup of Upper and Lower Mystic Ponds from an 1878 map of the Boston water works, courtesy Levanthal Map Library, Boston Public Library

This five and a half-minute audio piece was produced in collaboration with Elizabeth Solomon, an enrolled member of council of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag, and commissioned for the summer 2021 outdoor audio public art installation Sound on Mystic for the cities of Medford and Arlington and the Mystic River Watershed Association.

Medford, along with most of greater Boston, sits within the lands of the Massachusett people and, despite development, it continues to be Native space. Elizabeth Solomon returns to the headwaters of the Mystic River to decolonize the view from the shores of Mystic Lake. 

Solomon speaks about the Saunkskwa of Missitekw, the 17th century Massachusett leader who helped guide her people through the political shockwaves, environmental disruption, and epidemic plagues that accompanied colonization. The Massachusett people maintain their relationship to this place into the present day.

Exhibition

Arlington and Medford, MA – Sound on Mystic, a platform developed by Ian Coss, Dwayne A. Johnson, and Gary Roberts, May 15-August 31, 2021.

Credits

Sarah Kanouse with Elizabeth Solomon, “Native Space: Headwaters and Homelands,” stereo audio, 5 minutes 57 seconds, 2021.

Cello by Kristien Creamer, mixing by Ian Coss.

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. A meditation on deeptime, the violence of property, and survival in the face of attempted genocide and ecological loss. The title is taken from the first land patents awarded under the Homestead Act that transformed Ho Chunk territory into settler property–begging the question of to whom these “presents” came vs. from whom they were taken. Audio excerpted from a conversation with Bill Quackenbush, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer of the Ho-Chunk Nation, and sound of the creatures of woods and meadow 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)

Credit

Sarah Kanouse, From All to Whom These Presents Shall Come, Greetings, 2020. HD video, color/sound, 4 mins and a collection of ten prompts for embodied exploration of and resistance to property. Sound mixing by Jacob Ross, card design by Ryan Griffis.

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

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.

Ecologies of Acknowledgment

Meadow grasses in the foreground in front of waste processing digester.
Still from “Ecologies of Acknowledgment,” 2019

Commissioned by the University Hall Gallery at UMass Boston for the exhibition Local Ecologies, this video and companion letterpress print focuses on the land use histories of Deer Island in the Boston Harbor. Going beyond mere ‘recognition’ of Native territory, the project asks instead what it means to accept the relationships and responsibilities that come with living on occupied land. In the 17th century, Deer Island was a forced Indian removal and incarceration site, where between 500 and 1,000 people suffered from dire conditions comparable to a concentration camp. It is now the site of the Boston’s wastewater treatment plant.

Pedestal with stack of letterpress prints

The framed land acknowledgment is presented alongside a stack of leaflet prints available for viewers to take away in the gallery venues at UMass Boston, which occupies Massachusett land. In traveling versions of the exhibition, an annotation of the original print poses questions that might guide viewers in acknowledging Indigenous claims to this territory.

The three women interviewed for this film are of Nipmuc, Massachusett, and Natick Nipmuc origin. In not identifying themselves by name, they seek to elevate the collective experience of their peoples, rather than their individual voices.

Exhibitions/Screenings

Boston, MA – Roxbury International Film Festival, June 17-26, 2021.

Medford, MA – Tufts University Art Gallery, “Artist Response,” September 8, 2020-May 15 2021.

Lowell, MA – UMass Lowell, University Gallery, “Local Ecologies,” January 21-March 6, 2020.

Dartmouth, MA – UMass Dartmouth, University Art Gallery, “Local Ecologies,” November 7, 2019-January 10, 2020.

Boston, MA – UMass Boston, University Hall Gallery, “Local Ecologies,” September 3-October 26, 2019.

Credits

Sarah Kanouse and Nicholas Brown, Ecologies of Acknowledgment, 2019. HD Essay film, 9 minutes, 53 seconds; three-color letterpress print, 12” x 19,” edition of 10; black and white letterpress print, 12″ x 19,” edition of 250.

Sound Mix: Jacob Ross

Letterpress: David Medina, Huskiana Press at Northeastern University

Grassland

The collaged image of a monument to the Sand Creek Massacre is defaced with an oil-like substance and rises over a cutout from a Frederick Remington painting over a fracking pad in the background.
Still from Grassland (2019)

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.

Excerpt

Credits

Sarah Kanouse, “Grassland,” experimental nonfiction film, HD video, 19 minutes 15 second, 2019.

Sound design and mix by Jacob Ross

Screenings

Strikethrough indicates Coronavirus cancellations

Nightingale Cinema, Chicago, IL, May 21

Cellular Cinema, Minneapolis, May 17

NW Film Center, Portland, May 14

Emerald Earth Film Festival, Eugene, May 13

Echo Park Film Center, Los Angeles, April 11

Black Maria Film Festival 39th Annual Festival Tour, dates/locations TBA

Big Muddy Film Festival, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, February 2020

Artists’ Forum Festival of the Moving Image, New York, NY, October 18, 2019

Public Space One, Iowa City, September 30, 2019

Rhizome DC, Washington DC, October 12, 2019

Cineautopsia, Bogotá, Colombia, August 17, 2019.

Twisted Oyster Film and Media Festival, Kefalonia, Greece, May 9, 2019.

Experiments in Cinema, Albuquerque, April 18, 2019

Awards

Juror’s Citation, Black Maria Film Festival, Hoboken, NJ

Best Cinematography, Artists’ Forum Festival of the Moving Image, New York, NY

Honorable Mention, Experimental Forum, Los Angeles, CA.

National Toxic Land/Labor Conservation Service

National TLC Service Office in the IDEA Space, Colorado Springs, 2016.

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.

Visit the National TLC Service Website for full documentation.

Official Agency Video

Performative Lecture (Excerpt)

Exhibitions

Denver, CO – Denver Public Library, “Facing Rocky Flats,” August 26-October 31, 2018

Boulder, CO – Canyon Gallery, “Facing Rocky Flats,” April 27-June 10, 2018

Colorado Springs, CO – IDEA Space, “Atomic Landscapes,” March 21-May 7, 2016

Boston, MA – Proof Gallery, “Boston Does Boston 9,” January 23-February 20, 2016

Albuquerque, NM – Central Features, “Sarah Kanouse: Show Up Show Down,” February 6-12, 2015 (solo)

New York, NY – 41 Cooper Gallery, “Monument to Cold War Victory,” 2014

Champaign, IL – Figure One Gallery, “National TLC Service Mobile Field Office,” 2013

Davenport, IA – Figge Art Museum, “University of Iowa Faculty Biennial,” 2013

Fairfax, VA – George Mason University, “EcoCultures,” 2011

Brooklyn, NY – Momenta Arts, “Institute for Wishful Thinking,” 2011

Credit

Sarah Kanouse and Shiloh Krupar, “The National Toxic Land/Labor Conservation Service,” interdisciplinary arts/research platform, 2011-2016

Re-Collecting Black Hawk

Image of park sign reading "Blackhawk Park" in a mundane landscape

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.

The Monsanto Hearings

Detail of Monsanto Hearings poster

The Compass Collaborators have initiated a series of public hearings into the longstanding practices of the Monsanto Corporation. In each hearing, people are invited to testify, witness and listen; to offer sounds, images, material artifacts and arguments for inclusion. Our focus is on Monsanto’s role in transforming the ecologies, economies, and social relations of this region. The proceedings unfold in several stages, and as the deliberation process builds, it adds to the accumulating body of evidence about the impacts on human and non-human bodies, food, biological processes, weeds, neighborhoods, farmers, alternative forms of knowledge, and finally the environment from which all these entities emerge.Throughout this project, we invoke the form of a hearing but do so critically. Ideally, the trial is a method of producing a comprehensive public understanding of harms and determining responsibility for those harms. However, existing legal frameworks are inadequate for addressing the scope of Monsanto’s activities: the corporation is granted the rights of a legitimate “person,” while human noncitizens and nonhuman agents in our biosphere are not recognized. Our proposition is to consider all living things as potential witnesses and plaintiffs. We submit to public review impacts that are experienced materially and culturally, in the past, the present and extending into our shared future.

Drawing of a giant ear of corn testifying to a crowd

Hearings

Carbondale, IL (2012)

Iowa City, IA (2012)

St. Louis, MO (2013)

Greene County, OH (2014).


Project Archive

http://monsantohearings.net

Video Excerpts

Video below is excerpted from an hourlong documentation video produced in 2012 with footage coming out of the first two hearings.

Opening five minutes
Scott Koepke and Squirrel

Exhibitions/Screenings

 Cedar Rapids, IA – Legion Arts, “Maize y Más,” October 8, 2015-January 3, 2016

Urbana, IL – The Interdependent Film Festival,  – July 31, 2014.

Chicago, IL – School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sullivan Galleries, 2013

St. Louis, MO – CAMP, 2013

Carbondale, IL – Carbondale Public Library, 2013

Detroit, MI – Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012

Iowa City, IA – Iowa City Public Library, 2012

Kassel, Germany – Documenta 13, 2012

Credit

Compass, “The Monsanto Hearings”, performance events and documentation, 2012-2014

Around Crab Orchard

Vintage Photograph of Bunkers
Video still, Around Crab Orchard

Crab Orchard calls itself “a unique place to experience nature.” As the only wildlife refuge in the United States whose mission includes industry and agriculture alongside conservation and recreation, Crab Orchard claims a harmonious balance between uses and users that strike many as incompatible. This story of harmony is maintained through the production and enforcement of physical, visual, and political boundaries — boundaries that, once crossed, quickly dissolve. This essayistic documentary maps the filmmaker’s discovery of Crab Orchard’s complex and hybrid nature. When a request by a security guard to put away the camera leads to a surprise visit by the FBI, the filmmaker begins a journey to uncover the refuge’s history and understand its contradictory present. Crab Orchard’s status as a contaminated refuge emerges less as an exception and more an example of the power and perils of “nature” as we understand it today. From its use by historic Native Americans as a source of food, its continued role in an economically vulnerable region, and the use of its polluted lake as a water source, the film explores themes of invisibility, loss, and shared but profoundly unequal risk. Assembled from documents, found footage, and conversations with activists, writers, and local residents, the film meditates on the persistence of history, the creation of knowledge, the limits of representation, and the commonplace of environmental hazard. “Around Crab Orchard” ultimately argues for forms of storytelling, image-making, and activism that cross existing conceptual boundaries to respond to the full complexity of the social and ecological landscape.

Trailer

Twenty-Minute Excerpt

Select Screenings

Emerald Earth Film Festival, Eugene, 2020

UnionDocs, New York, 2014

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 2014

Banff Centre, Alberta, 2014

Appalachian State University, 2014

Ohio University, 2014

Headroom Microcinema/University of Iowa, 2014

Furthermore Gallery, Washington, D.C., 2013

Cabaret Voltaire/ETH Zurich, Zurich, 2013

School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2013

Interrobang Film Festival, 2013

Echo Park Film Center, Los Angeles, 2013

Southside Projections, Chicago, 2013

Athens International Film and Video Festival, 2013

University at Buffalo, 2013

35th Big Muddy Film Festival, 2013

Awards

Best Iowa-Produced Film, Interrobang Film Festival

John Michaels Award for social justice filmmaking, Big Muddy Film Festival

Juror’s Special Mention, Big Muddy Film Festival

Credit

Sarah Kanouse, “Around Crab Orchard”, HD video, 69 min, 2013. Contact me for private link to full-length video.