Spring 2021, with open but aching arms

Three figures in PPE masks are arrayed in the foreground of a landfill hill with protruding monitoring pipes. One figure gestures and seems to be speaking. Industrial infrastructure can be viewed beyond the hill.
Sarah Kanouse and Nicholas Brown led a tour of Deer Island for Caroline Jones’s MIT Architecture course Landscape Experience, April 17, 2021.

The fourteen months since the first COVID-19 lockdowns have made clear over and over again just how entangled environmental damage, capitalism, and white supremacy actually are – as well as how unevenly their burdens are experienced. Even as I receive my second vaccine shot this week, I look with grief and outrage at the attacks on civilians in Palestine and the conditions facing the people of India, Brazil, Uruguay and other countries whose ability to fight the virus is constrained by the vaccine nationalism of wealthy countries. So it’s with open but aching arms that I embrace the promise of spring in my hemisphere and with it the release of new writing and creative work.

On Saturday, May 15, the geolocated public audio walk Sound on Mystic launches and with it my latest collaboration with Elizabeth Solomon. Native Space: Headwaters and Homelands is a five and a half minute piece for the area of the cistern that drains water from lower Mystic Lake into a now-defunct water distribution system. Elizabeth takes us back to an earlier view of Mystic Lake, before its engineering and development, to the time of a powerful female leader of the Massachusett people known today only as the Saunkswa of Missitekw. The piece is built from an interview with Elizabeth and field recordings collected inside the cistern and along the Mystic River.

I’m thrilled to announce that the short film (and earlier collaboration with Elizabeth Solomon and Nicholas Brown) Ecologies of Acknowledgment will screen in the 2021 Roxbury International Film Festival in a program entitled “Homage to our Lands.” Despite recent progress with vaccinations – especially in Boston, the film festival is online for the again this year. The program will be available for streaming for 48 hours, from  10am on Juneteenth (the 19th) to 10am on June 21st. Since I made the film viewable online for free on Indigenous People’s Day 2019, it has been circulating in unpredictable ways that sometimes surface via Instagram or Twitter and a number of gratifying unsolicited emails. It is still viewable in person at the Tufts University Art Gallery through the end of the spring semester.

This winter and spring has seen the publication of two new academic essays co-authored with Nicholas Brown. Our just-published “Perspectives and Controversies” essay for The Anthropocene Review entitled “An Anti-Racist and Anti-Colonial Anthropocene for Compromised Times.” Written during the racial justice uprising of last summer, we argue that the post-definitional project of the Anthropocene must be humbly anti-racist and anti-colonial and committed to transformative action. Over the winter, our essay “Common Tensions” was published in a special issue of the Swedish art journal Passepartout on “New Infrastructures – Performative Infrastructures in the Performance Field.”

I’m also honored to have an essay in the new Routledge Companion to Contemporary Art, Visual Culture, and Climate Change, edited by T.J. Demos, Emily Eliza Scott, and Subhankar Banerjee. “Staying with the Troubling, Performing in the Impasse” takes a skeptical look at white/settler climate grief and looks towards AIDS activists ability to politicize grief to consider how such an affect might be mobilized toward justice in both art and organizing. It is an incredible privilege to have my written work appear alongside that of many of my all-time intellectual, artistic and political heroes, and a huge thank you to the editors to shepherding the many year process through to completion.

The Netherlands-based arts research organization Sonic Acts has launched the new magazine Ecoes about art in the age of pollution. A few months ago, I sat down (virtually) with Kyveli Mavrokordopoulou for a conversation about the National Toxic Land/Labor Conservation Service and other projects about the nuclear legacies of the Cold War. An edited version of the interview appears in the magazine’s inaugural issue, just out this month.

I recently also had the privilege of screening and speaking with Emily Eliza Scott about my 2012 film Around Crab Orchard in the University of Oregon’s Emerald Earth Film Festival, speaking with Jules Rochielle’s Tufts University class Public as Form, and leading a socially distanced tour of the grounds outside the perimeter of the MWRA Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant with Nicholas Brown for Caroline Jones’s MIT Architecture course, Landscape Experience (see picture above). The tour was a welcome return to a place we’ve spent a lot of time at and thinking about over the years, from helping with the Deer Island Memorial Paddle to researching and filming Ecologies of Acknowledgment, and the tour gave us an excuse to put together a one-page zine of questions to guide our visit which you can download here. For printing and folding directions, you can see this tutorial.

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.

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).

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.

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.

Summer Short-Form Writing

I was fortunate to receive several invitations this spring and summer to contribute reviews and position papers to several interesting arts-academic web publications. The relatively short form and swift turnaround time is a welcome change from my usual pace of writing and making, where individual projects usually require at least year. Taken together, they do a pretty good job capturing my current preoccupation and commitments: that the climate emergency is now at the heart of everything and that it cannot be addressed without grappling deeply with violent epistemologies of colonial and white supremacist thought.

Sarah Kanouse, Review of Michael Allen’s “How Not What: Anthropocene Landscapes of St. Louis,” Forty-Five, May 21, 2019.

Sarah, Kanouse, “Outside, Beyond the Frame,” Panorama 5:1, June 19 2019.

Sarah Kanouse, “Surviving Extinction,” Art Journal Open, August 12, 2019.

Monument to Cold War Victory Book Released

Sepia-toned collage art cover of the book
Monument to Cold War Victory book cover, detail

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.

Credit

Fiks, Yevgeniy and Stamatina Gregory, eds. Monument to Cold War Victory. New York: The Cooper Union, 2018: 100-103.

Facing Rocky Flats and new essay on National TLC Service

Image of art exhibition in a gallery

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.

Coverage of the exhibition:

Josh Schlossberg, Boulder Weekly, May 17, 2018

The Colorado Independent, August 26, 2018

Jeff Todd, CBS Local, August 27, 2018

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.