A Post-Naturalist Field Kit

For nearly two hundred years, the figure of the naturalist—the enthusiastic observer of birds, soils, insects, plants, and animals—set the bar for dedicated, non-professional scholarship of the non-human world. With his sketchbook, butterfly net, binoculars, and field guides, the naturalist went “into the field” to learn nature’s secrets through patient observation. But recent scholarship in the sciences and humanities has revealed that “the field” cannot be considered apart from the human world that shapes and imagines it. Taking its cue from the study of social nature, “A Post-Naturalist Field Kit” is an art project that updates the figure of the naturalist for the exploration of post-natural urban landscapes. The project includes artifacts for exploring environmental issues in the city—from specimen jars to do-it-yourself air quality monitors and lead contamination tests— along with activity cards that refuse to draw lines between social, economic, and environmental issues. Drawing on Fluxus game kits and recent environmental art, “A Post-Naturalist Field Kit” offers tools for the embodied exploration of urban social ecologies. This article describes and contextualizes the project in light of relevant areas of creative practice and geographical thought.

Kanouse, Sarah, “A Post-Naturalist Field Kit: tools for the embodied exploration of social ecologies,” in Sébastien Cacquard, William Cartwright, and Laurene Vaughan, eds. Mapping Environmental Issues in the City (Heidelberg: Springer, 2011), 160-177.

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Take It to the Air: radio as public art

The radio spectrum, regulated in the US since 1927 for the “public interest, convenience, and necessity,” has long been viewed by artists as an unrealized, utopian public space. Today, many artists use FM radio, wireless, and the electromagnetic spectrum to make work usually described as electronic or new media art. However, there is often a public and politicized quality to this work: artistic (mis)use of the radio spectrum may activate a public around secret listening, detourne and rebroadcast the normal content of the airwaves, or “drown out” corporate broadcasts in a highly local area. This paper discusses several recent projects to argue that artwork in the “electomagnetic commons” complements field of public art in important ways

Kanouse, Sarah, “Take it to the air: radio as public art,” Art Journal 70(3): 86-99.

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Performing Haymarket

After over a century of official silence, the City of Chicago dedicated a new monument to the Haymarket Affair, one of the central events in the history of labor activism and radical politics worldwide, in 2004. The monument signaled a profound change in how divergent views on Haymarket are managed, and the monument’s iconography and inscription, as well as the media coverage surrounding it, emphasized themes of consensus and closure. Yet the new monument is not the only memorial to have been placed on the site, and in the past century a range of much more explicitly partisan commemorations have taken place there. This paper critically considers performative memorials inspired by anarchist observances but coming out of arts practice, with special attention given to the poetics and politics implied by this work. The author’s own memorial performance is discussed in detail; also addressed are works by Brian Dortmund, Kehben Grifter, and Michael Piazza.

Kanouse, Sarah, “Performing Haymarket,” ACME: An International E-Journal of Critical Geographies, 7(1): 69-87,

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Touring the Archive, Archiving the Tour

Based in Los Angeles, the Center for Land Use Interpretation describes itself as an independent, non-profit, educational organization “dedicated to the increase and diffusion of information about how the nation’s lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived.” Through exhibits, publications, bus tours, an online database, and an artists’ residency program, CLUI has crafted a visually coherent and unaffected set of presentation and interpretive strategies drawn from the places where tourism, the archive, museum educational displays, and conceptual art intersect. While the organization refuses to state a clear position for or against particular ways land has been used, its body of work resists the notion that certain landscapes, especially ugly or utilitarian ones, are either unremarkable or inevitable.

Kanouse, Sarah, “Touring the Archive, Archiving the Tour,” Art Journal 64(2): 78-87.

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Cooing Over the Golden Phallus

A increasing number of popular documentary films are employing prankster tactics for political effect.  With a heritage stretching back to the Yippies, the Situationists, and beyond, prankster activists harness broad dissatisfaction with contemporary society and express it in visceral, anarchic, experiential form. This paper considers and critiques these practices in light of the politics of the spectacle they engage. Specifically, what types of political activity – individualist or collective, transcendent or engaged, patriarchal or feminist – are suggested by the prankster-activist?  What economic and gender relations are engaged by pranksters, and do politicized pranksters reinforce these underlying schema even as they temporarily turn the tables on their powerful targets?  Does the popular reception of prankster politics represent a fulfillment of its promise to make dissent more ‘fun’?  If so, what kind of fun are we having, and what kind of politics are we not doing while we’re having it?

Kanouse, Sarah, “Cooing Over the Golden Phallus,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest 4 (2005): 21-31.

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Additional Publications

Publications grouped here are intended for a non-art audience, are short-form reflections on a creative work, or are commissioned and unrefereed. PDFs are supplied for all refereed publications, though editorial rather than blind peer review may have been the vetting mechanism.

Book Chapter

Kanouse, Sarah, “Installation Art,” in John Downing, ed., The Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media (London: Sage, 2010), 272-279.

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Journal Articles

Greenwald, Dara, and Sarah Kanouse “What the Market Bares,” Critical Planning 18 (2011): 92-98

Download PDF: What the Market Bares

Kanouse, Sarah, “Tactical Irrelevance: Art and Politics at Play,” The Democratic Communiqué 20(2) (2007): 23-39.

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Brown, N., R. Griffis, K. Hamilton, S. Irish, and S. Kanouse, “What makes justice spatial? What makes spaces just?” Critical Planning 14 (2007): 7-28.

Download PDF: What Makes Justice Spatial? What Makes Spaces Just?

Commissioned/Unrefereed

Kanouse, Sarah, “Marc Tasman,” Mary L. Nohl Fellowship Exhibition Catalog, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts, 2007 (unnumbered)

Kanouse, Sarah and Nicholas Brown, “Urban, Rural, Wild,” AREA: Art Research Education Activism 1:4 (2005)

Cover image: Art book spines, photo by Sarah Kanouse