America’s Heart of Hearts Tour

Campy image of corn ears growing above the St. Louis Arch
Promotion image for alternative tour, 2011

While the global reach of the United States military is well-known, the ways it has shaped the interior geography of the country is more obscure—even to many Americans. Get a fresh perspective on the Heartland by touring the domestic sites that helped to produce America’s military might, and you may catch a glimpse of the nation’s future.

The centerpiece of your four day/three night stay in the Heartland states of Missouri and Illinois will be the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, a fascinating and lovely natural area created on a former US Army ammunition plant. A private defense contractor still uses the refuge to manufacture munitions, and the thorough clean-up of contamination stemming from these and other industrial operations is ongoing. Crab Orchard boasts recreation facilities for boating, hunting, fishing, hiking and wildlife observation. Crab Orchard will be your base for day trips into other military sites in scenic southern Illinois, including civil war sites, the ruins of a World War II prisoner of war facility, and a military boot camp for convicts. You’ll fly into and out of St. Louis, affording side trips to the Museum of Westward Expansion, Scott Air Force Base and the corporate headquarters of Monsanto, the agribusiness giant whose herbicide Agent Orange was used as a weapon in the Vietnam War.


Beijing, China – Homeshop, 2011


Sarah Kanouse, “America’s Heart of Hearts Tour,” in Dan S. Wang and Stephanie Rothenberg’s “The Journey West,” site-specific intervention in Beijing, China, 2011

Radiation Limit

Radiation Limit commemorates the human radiation experiments sponsored by the Atomic Energy Commission from 1943 until at least 1974. The site-specific installation for the grounds around the Department of Energy, successor to the AEC, consists of plantings of spiderwort, a plant native to North America that is used to detect the presence of radiation, and contact microphones buried slightly underground and connected to mixer and low power FM transmitter. The highly sensitive contact microphones pick up soil movement around the spiderwort plants and the vibrations of passing footsteps and vehicles. The sounds are mixed together and broadcast via low power radio to the surrounding area. Viewers are provided with portable radios to detect the sonic activity, much as the original experimenters used Geiger counters and other instrumentation to measure exposure to otherwise invisible radiation.

During the Cold War, thousands of people were exposed to radiation in scientific experiments without proper informed consent. Many of these experiments were conducted on prisoners, semi-literate people, terminally ill patients, people of color, and the disabled. Some of the most significant universities and medical centers in the country conducted the studies for the Atomic Energy Commission as well as the Department of Defense, the CIA, NASA, and the National Institutes of Health. In all, the government funded some 4,000 radiation experiments prior to 1974, when rules were adopted to govern the treatment of human subjects in federally-sponsored research. In 1995, President Bill Clinton issued an official apology “to those of our citizens who were subjected to these experiments, to their families, and to their communities. We will no longer hide the truth from our citizens.”

Spiderwort is known as “nature’s radiation detector” because its stamens change color from blue to pink in the presence of radiation, according to independent studies at Brookhaven National Laboratory and Kyoto University. It has a long history of medicinal use by Native Americans, who crushed the leaves to treat insect bites and brewed it into a tea to alleviate menstrual symptoms. The plant’s flower, shoots, and leaves are also edible. A close relative of sedges, lilies and other wetland species, spiderwort requires a semi-shaded, relatively damp location. As such, it is well-suited to rain gardens at the dripline of trees and near footpaths.

Download as PDF: Radiation Limit Poster


Champaign, IL – Krannert Art Museum, “Twenty Two Reviews,” a project by Bonnie Fortune


Sarah Kanouse, “Radiation Limit,” proposal for public memorial, 2010. Poster design by Becky Nasadowski.

A Post-Naturalist Field Kit for Saint-Henri

Wood box with multiple partitions and instruments
A Post-Naturalist Field Kit (detail)

“A Post-Naturalist Field Kit” updates the naturalist’s toolbox for the exploration of the social ecologies of urban landscapes. The project includes artifacts for exploring environmental issues in the city — from specimen jars to do-it-yourself air quality monitors — along with cards that prompt users to consider relationships among social, economic, and ecological issues.


Post-Naturalist Cards

Post-Naturalist Field Kit Overview


Download as PDF: Post-Naturalist Field Kit Cards

Download as PDF: Pamphlet on Saint-Henri


East Lansing, MI – (Scene) Metrospace Gallery
Detroit, MI – University of Michigan, work●detroit gallery
Montreal, Canada – Concordia University, Arts & Cartography Workshop


Sarah Kanouse, “A Post-Naturalist Field Kit for Saint-Henri,” 2010

America Ponds

“America Ponds” is a 46-minute alternative audio tour of Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge created for Stories in Reserve, a box set of three artist-produced audio tours of unusual sites in North America released by the Temporary Travel Office in 2010.

Located in southernmost Illinois, Crab Orchard is the result of a half-century of economic development efforts directed at this sparsely populated, rural part of the state. Its three lakes were designed and built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, and the Refuge itself was established in 1947 on the site of a shuttered munitions plant. Today, Crab Orchard’s mission includes hosting industrial facilities, and companies producing everything from highlighters to high-caliber ammunition have taken up residence in the wildlife refuge. Fifty years of heavy manufacturing have taken a heavy toll on the place. Since the 1980s, Crab Orchard has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List—better known as Superfund—which outlines and monitors a clean-up process for the most severely contaminated sites in the United States. Rather than concealing Crab Orchard’s resolutely cultural and political existence, this tour highlights it.  Traveling here is an invitation to think through complexity, to feel our way through contradiction, and to come up with a concept more honest and useful than ‘nature’ to describe the myriad ways we exist with and within the non-human world.


Download entire audio tour as zipped mp3s: America Ponds


America Ponds Installation View
Listening station with touchscreen interface for gallery presentation.

Screenshot of touchscreen interface
Still from touchscreen interface from gallery listening station.

Exhibitions and Presentations

New York, NY – CUNY Graduate Center, James Gallery, 2011
Davenport, IA – Figge Art Museum, “University of Iowa Faculty Biennial,” 2011
Los Angeles, CA – Betalevel, 2010
Palos Heights, IL – Trinity Christian College, Seerveld Gallery, 2010
Chicago, IL – Green Lantern Gallery, 2010
Vancouver, Canada – Emily Carr University READ Bookstore, 2010


2010 New York Art Book Fair, MOMA PS1
Half Letter Press
Journal Press


Chicago, IL – Museum of Contemporary Art, Artist’s Books and Sound (in process)


Sarah Kanouse, “America Ponds,” 46-minute audio tour released on CD and mp3, 2010

Native Resurgence

Detail of black and white map
Native Resurgence Map Graphic

Native Resurgence” is a map and primer to sites of Native American resistance and ingenuity in the upper Midwest since the 1970s. Our goals are threefold. First, we want to place Native stories firmly in the center of our narrative; they too often occupy a position peripheral to the concerns of urban progressives and radicals. Second, we want to highlight successful examples of recent Native activism and tribal development, since stories of all-too-real victimization and discrimination tend to be the ones that most readily spring to the minds of politically conscious non-Natives. Finally, we hope that focusing on Midwestern Native politics might productively unsettle familiar narratives of Chicago’s urban processes, placing them in relation to a longer history of colonialism and dispossession, but also endurance and evolution.

From longstanding organizations such as the American Indian Center of Chicago—the nation’s oldest urban Indian center—to fleeting events such as the American Indian Chicago Conference of 1961 and the occupations at Chicago Indian Village, Belmont Harbor and Argonne National Laboratories in the early 1970s, Chicago itself has a rich history of Native survivance–the joint processes of survival and resistance. The implications of this history—what it enables us to do in a historical present haunted by racism and colonialism—become more clear when Chicago is de-centered from its position as the de facto capital of the Midwest and re-situated in a larger regional context. Not only will this dissolve the false dichotomy between urban and rural but, for our purposes, it allows us to begin seeing this land—from the Calumet River to Lac du Flambeau—for what it is: Indian Country.

Download as PDF: Native Resurgence Map


Kanouse, Sarah and Nicholas Brown, “Native Resurgence,” original print map collecting sites of Native American “survivance” since 1970, published in AREA: Art Research Education Activism, Vol. 9, Fall 2009 (special insert). Also selected for “10 AREAs/5 Years,” a publication retrospective for the US Social Forum

Region from Below: Power Plants

Installation at "Heartland" exhibition at the Smart Museum of Art, 2009
Installation View, Region From Below

Region From Below: Power Plants maps the coal and corn carbon economies in the Midwest region. It features four pop-out stories detailing alternatives to the corn- and coal-shed and spotlighting places where coal and corn come together. The original map is installed with historical maps that describe other geographical imaginations of the region. In addition to the maps, a take-home ‘quiz’ asks questions from the factual to the fanciful to help readers re-orient themselves to these resources.


Download PDF of map: Region From Below


Installation at Smart Museum, 2009
Installation at the Smart Museum, 2009
Two-sided card available as takeaway to gallery visitors.
Two-sided card available as takeaway to gallery visitors.


AREA: Art Research Education Activism, Vol. 9, Fall 2009 (special insert)


Buffalo, NY – University at Buffalo Art Gallery, “Precious Cargo”

Chicago, IL – Mess Hall, “Collectivism After Collapse”

Chicago, IL – Smart Museum, “Heartland”


Compass, “The Region from Below: Power Plants”, 2009

Going Downstate

Detail, Going Downstate map

Going Downstate” is a counter-map of the Illinois state prison system with photographs (by Lauren Shrensel-Zadikow) and information on tax structure, costs, per capital income, traveling distance and demographics.


Download as PDF: Going Downstate


Chicago, IL – Museum of Contemporary Art, “Mapping the Self”

Chicago, IL – Gallery 400, “An Atlas of Radical Cartography”

Chicago, IL – Hyde Park Art Center, “Pedagogical Factory”


Chicago, IL – Museum of Contemporary Art, Artist’s Books and Sound


Kanouse, Sarah and Lauren Shrensel-Zadikow, “Going Downstate,” AREA: Art Research Education Activism, Vol. 4 (2007) page 20.

Driving East

Driving East

Driving East investigates how myths of American mobility developed during Manifest Destiny continue to operate today. We use the familiar form of the road trip to rethink how the present-day landscape was forged by the linked processes of white westward migration on the one hand and Indian removal and resistance on the other. By engaging with archival records, contemporary stories, images, and ephemera, we hope to uncover, recover, expose, and re-present traces of these histories still resonant, if barely legible, in the landscapes and politics of a place.  As white people, we believe these processes continue to shape the physical, social, and political spaces we inhabit today, most obviously through place names, museums, and memorials but more subtly through unconscious patterns of speech and behavior that reveal a great deal about how different groups of people imagine, inhabit and move through the United States.

Note: This project evolved into the photo-text book, Re-Collecting Black Hawk.


Milwaukee, WI – Walker’s Point Center for the Arts


Nicholas Brown and Sarah Kanouse, “Driving East Through Indian Country,” video and photographic installation, self-published artists’ book on the commemorative landscapes of Westward Expansion, 2007.

Don’t Mourn

Don’t Mourn is a series of memorial transmission performances to moments of violent conflict in Illinois labor history from the 1870s to the 1990s. I traveled to twelve otherwise unmarked sites to broadcast a distorted Internationale, the socialist and anarchist solidarity anthem, using a homemade mobile transmission kit consisting of a 4-watt FM transmitter, modified HAM radio antenna, and 12-volt wheelchair batteries. As a form of omnipresent sound that cannot be heard by the unassisted ear, as an immersive technology in which our bodies and spaces are always bathed, radio enacts metaphorically the troubled nature of public memories, always hovering on the brink of forgetting. Radio’s invisibility underscores the marginality of these mostly forgotten, yet nonetheless significant events, while the minor act of civil disobedience represented by my lone, unlicensed broadcast connects it to the lost militancy of the American left.

The series of performances was conducted from 2005-2007 and documented via video before being collected into the multimedia essay for the web presented here.

Credit and link to project

Sarah Kanouse, “Don’t Moun,” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies 3:3, 2007

Note: This project was authored in Flash and may not be supported by your browser.


Ithaca, NY – Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival

Carbondale, IL – University Museum, “Mapping Southern Illinois”

Carbondale, IL – University Museum, “Combined Faculty Exhibition”

Chicago, IL – Mess Hall, “Open Source, Open Ear”

Champaign, IL – OpenSource Art, “Skinless Capital: Neoliberalism and Resistance”

What the Market Bares

Man looks directly at camera whilie another man watches a video projected on the window of a bus
What the Market Bares, installation shot, 2007

What the Market Bares is a site-specific video installation concerning labor migration and material culture. Installed on a bus as part of an artist residency, “The Return of the Gastarbeiter” in Kucevo, Serbia.


The first video below is documentation of the project, explaining the economic and social conditions specific to rural Serbia that the piece address. The second video was played in the installation, with added subtitles.


Drunken Boat 12, an online journal of art and literature, Fall 2010


San Francisco, CA – University of California Santa Cruz, “Intervene! Interrupt! Art as Social Practice”

Berkeley, CA – University of California, Worth Rider Gallery, “Out of TimeSpace”

Kučevo, Serbia – Stanica, “Dolasci/Polasci”


Greenwald, Dara and Sarah Kanouse, “What the Market Bares,” 2007, HD video, 3 minute 47 second loop