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 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 beyond the limits of liberal individualism.
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.
For further excerpts and a trailer, please see this Vimeo showcase.
Sarah Kanouse, My Electric Genealogy, 80-minute lecture performance, 2022
Los Angeles, CA – 2220 Arts+ Archives, September 29, 2022
Irvine, CA – Claire Trevor School of the Arts and Program in Environmental Humanities, University of California, Irvine, October 4, 2022
Fullerton, CA – California State University Fullerton, Dept. of English, October 5, 2022
Claremont, CA – American Studies, Scripps College and Art + Art History, Pitzer College, October 6, 2022
Santa Cruz, CA – PLATFORM at Museum of Art and History, October 11, 2022
Eugene, OR – University of Oregon, October 13, 2022
Pasadena, CA – Caltech, October 17, 2022
Evanston, IL – Northwestern University, February 7, 2023
Washington College, Chestertown, MD – “Mapping Meaning,” October 19-December 19, 2021.
Kanouse, Sarah. “An Embodied Archive: gestures and documents from My Electric Genealogy.” Mapping Meaning 3 (2019): 77-83.
Kanouse, Sarah. Notes on a Performance-in-Progress. In Christopher Heurer and Rebecca Zorach, eds. Ecologies, Agents, Terrains. Williamstown, MA: Clark Art Institute, 2018, 196-215.