An essayistic short film meditating on the challenges of solidarity at a time when a pandemic, a collapsing climate, and an ongoing racial reckoning have laid bare White complicity in violence, both fast and slow. Layering found images and texts with animation and personal narration, the film is an intimate working through of the events of 2020, their long prehistory, and the possible futures just coming into view.
Big Muddy Film Festival, Southern Illinois University – February 27, 2022.
Sarah Kanouse, “Coronaura,” essay film, 5 minutes 33 seconds, 2022. Sound design and music by Jacob Ross.
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.
Beyond Property is a suite of tools guiding inquiry into the proposition that property is an Anthropocene technology. The collection includes a book of readings, a suite of cards for embodied exploration, and a small sculptural object: a section of barbed wire removed from an American fenceline decoupaged or “bandaged” with text from the writings from Gerrard Winstanley, the 17th century English activist-philosopher. Rooted in Quakerism, Winstanley’s True Leveller’s movement enacted a powerful critique of critique of the morality of private property at the moment of its formalization through enclosure.
Co-Prosperity Sphere, Chicago, IL – “The Overflow,” October 15-November 15, 2021.
Minnesota Museum of American Art, Minneapolis, MN – “Many Waters,” July 24-October 2, 2021.
Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany – The Current,” October 26-November 30, 2020. Exhibition venue closed November 1 due to Covid-19.
Sarah Kanouse, Beyond Property, 2019-2021. Project began as 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. Continued as Over the Levee, Under the Plow: An Experiential Curriculum, co-coordinated with Ryan Griffis.
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.
Arlington and Medford, MA – Sound on Mystic, a platform developed by Ian Coss, Dwayne A. Johnson, and Gary Roberts, May 15-August 31, 2021.
Sarah Kanouse with Elizabeth Solomon, “Native Space: Headwaters and Homelands,” stereo audio, 5 minutes 57 seconds, 2021.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
Sarah Kanouse, “Around Crab Orchard”, HD video, 69 min, 2013. Contact me for private link to full-length video.