National Toxic Land/Labor Conservation Service

National TLC Service Office in the IDEA Space, Colorado Springs, 2016.

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.

Visit the National TLC Service Website for full documentation.

Official Agency Video

Performative Lecture (Excerpt)


Denver, CO – Denver Public Library, “Facing Rocky Flats,” August 26-October 31, 2018

Boulder, CO – Canyon Gallery, “Facing Rocky Flats,” April 27-June 10, 2018

Colorado Springs, CO – IDEA Space, “Atomic Landscapes,” March 21-May 7, 2016

Boston, MA – Proof Gallery, “Boston Does Boston 9,” January 23-February 20, 2016

Albuquerque, NM – Central Features, “Sarah Kanouse: Show Up Show Down,” February 6-12, 2015 (solo)

New York, NY – 41 Cooper Gallery, “Monument to Cold War Victory,” 2014

Champaign, IL – Figure One Gallery, “National TLC Service Mobile Field Office,” 2013

Davenport, IA – Figge Art Museum, “University of Iowa Faculty Biennial,” 2013

Fairfax, VA – George Mason University, “EcoCultures,” 2011

Brooklyn, NY – Momenta Arts, “Institute for Wishful Thinking,” 2011


Sarah Kanouse and Shiloh Krupar, “The National Toxic Land/Labor Conservation Service,” interdisciplinary arts/research platform, 2011-2016

Media Art Lab

This workshop supports study and production in the media arts, including digital video, sound, installation/performance, and Internet and new media art, for students with a range of experience with media technologies. Conceptual development is stressed through regular readings and screenings, while technology skills are built in hands-on workshops using a range of media production equipment and platforms. In class and short-term projects lead to the development of a significant final piece of work that may relate to students’ ongoing creative interests.

Course Materials

Download as PDF: Fall 2014 Media Art Lab

Download as PDF: Fall 2013 Media Art Lab Syllabus

Download as PDF: Fall 2012 Media Art Lab Syllabus

Download as PDF: Spring 2012 Media Art Lab Syllabus

Download as PDF: Fall 2011 Media Art Lab Syllabus

Download as PDF: Spring 2011 Media Art Lab Syllabus

Download as PDF: Fall 2010 Media Art Lab Syllabus

Download as PDF: Spring 2010 Media Art Lab Syllabus

Level: Upper-Division Undergraduate/Graduate

Student Work: Video Exquisite Corpse

Among Surrealist techniques exploiting the mystique of accident was a kind of collective collage of words or images called the cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse). Based on an old parlor game, it was played by several people, each of whom would write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold the paper to conceal part of it, and pass it on to the next player for his contribution.”

­­–William S. Rubin

Each pair will have a week to create a video exquisite corpse, using the camera to record images grounded in a specific point of view and individual, subjective position. Use the camera’s manual functions in an intentional and controlled way, developing fluency with exposure and focus controls such that technical “imperfections” are clearly intentional, expressive effects.

Download as PDF: Video Exquisite Corpse Assignment

Emily Dang (BFA, Drawing), Buffy Quintero (PhD, Interdisciplinary Studies), and Sarita Zaleha (MFA, Printmaking), Fall 2014.

Student Work: Video Trios

Over the next two weeks, each individual will shoot and edit three distinct but related videos of exactly twenty seconds each. The trio should have a unifying visual or conceptual theme (such as “time,” “pattern,” or even something silly like “fruit”) that is dealt with in three distinct ways. Each twenty second video should feel ‘complete,’ with a distinct beginning, middle, and end, and include a minimum of three shots. Create one video around each of the following:

  • Informal voiceover or conversational exchange
  • Reading of appropriated text
  • Images/sounds only, with no spoken text

Note: The precise length of each video in this assignment varied each semester, from 12-30 seconds

Download as PDF: Video Trios Assignment

Christopher Willauer (BFA, Intermedia), Fall 2013.

Student Work: Audio Postcard/Sound Story

This assignment asks students to tune into the aesthetic potential of sound composition while introducing fundamentals of field recording and audio composition. Variations have included audio ‘postcards’ – descriptive and evocative dispatches from a specific place, ‘sound stories’ – narratives in which the visual is subordinate to the sound, and thematic, collaborative sound investigations.

Download as PDF: Sounds Like War

Download as PDF: Sound Stories Assignment

Download as PDF: Audio Postcard Assignment

Emily Dang and V.K. Tian, “24 Hours,” Fall 2014

Naoki Izumo (MFA, Intermedia) and Jared Jewell (BFA, Intermedia), “Manufacturing War,” Fall 2014.

Erica Blair (BFA, Intermedia), “Abstract Audio Postcard,” Fall 2012.

Derek Blackman (BFA, Photography), “Anxiety,” Spring 2011.

Student Work: Installation

The class sometimes includes an installation component, especially when paired with Intermedia’s public Fall Showcase event. Due to space limitations, the students have only one week to develop the installation component.

Download as PDF: One Week Installations Assignment

Art installation with strings and shadow puppets
Emily Dang (BFA, Painting/Drawing) and V.K. Tian (BA, Art), “24 Hours,” installation of the audio work shown above, Fall 2014.
Installation with five vintage TVs live-monitoring their own image
Brendan Wells (BFA, Intermedia), “Daisy Chain,” Media Art Lab – Spring 2010
Dan Feinberg (MFA Sculpture) and Josh Hoeks (MFA, Sculpture), “Down He Goes,” site specific installation with mechanical arm “flushing” video image into a bucket of water, Media Art Lab Fall 2010.

Select Student Comments

“This class has been the most pertinent in developing my artistic awareness in the world around me and what I am doing as an artist. Thank you for helping me develop, Sarah.” (Fall 2014)

“I was encouraged to do something I always wanted to do. It is a good chance for me to know and show who I really am.” (Fall 2014)

“Sarah does an excellent job balancing learning of technical craft skills with conceptual, historical, and contemporary trends of video/sound art. I appreciate her knowledge of artists and art and weaves that info throughout the semester into both class group and individual work. I feel much more comfortable in media equipment and editing software now.” (Fall 2013)

“Your knowledge and passion for the craft is evident and inspired (inspiring) me to do my best!” (Fall 2013)

“This was a wonderful class. Not only did I learn the technical skills necessary for video/audio art, I also learned a lot about artists working in this way, and I was inspired by them. You did an excellent job of balancing course content/expectations for people with a lot of background in this and students with no background at all.” (Fall 2012)

“In comparison with some instructors, Sarah assumes a lot of work from the students; however, I’ve found that I try to be more creative because of it.” (Fall 2012)

“I really enjoyed the structure of the class. I was able to learn most of what I needed to begin quickly and really focus on what I wanted to do. I am planning on taking the course again next semester and hope to do a lot of independent research.” (Spring 2012)

“Professor Kanouse is incredibly smart and generous with her time. This class helped me a lot with my art work and both she and the rest of the class gave me great feedback. The class is challenging, much more so than other classes I have taken in the school of art. I would definitely take this class again. There was a good balance of theory and practical learning and service learning (with our class-curated exhibition). This is a great class.” (Spring 2012)

“The material in this course is super interesting but the class is really intense. Sarah is super smart and ambitious as an instructor.” (Fall 2011)

“This class was very challenging, technically and conceptually. The instructor has high expectations but it seems to make everyone work much harder. This was a great class.” (Fall 2011)

“Great class, well organized, very dedicated instructor.” (Fall 2010)

“I really enjoyed this course. It was often fast-paced, with introduction to several computer programs with projects/assignments due the following week. This made learning the programs a self-guided venture – I would have appreciated more time working on computers in class, though extremely detailed instructional handouts did help…Nevertheless, I learned and feel proficient with so much more than I previous was, and feel I can now work independently on similar audio and video projects, which is of great value to me.” (Fall 2010)

“Sarah is an extremely organized and well spoken teacher. She cares deeply about the course and her students at large. Sarah has been an exceptionally valuable part of my graduate studies and as a result I will be minoring in this area. I hope to continue working with her throughout my time here. Thank you Sarah for all of your help, support, and insight.” (Spring 2010)

“If I could give one piece of advice to entering graduate students, it would be to take a class with Sarah Kanouse. Her courses are engaging and she will inspire you to create your strongest work. Sarah clearly loves teaching and is committed to seeing students of all interests/ability levels succeed.” (Spring 2010)

The Monsanto Hearings

Detail of Monsanto Hearings poster

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.

Drawing of a giant ear of corn testifying to a crowd


Carbondale, IL (2012)

Iowa City, IA (2012)

St. Louis, MO (2013)

Greene County, OH (2014).

Project Archive

Video Excerpts

Video below is excerpted from an hourlong documentation video produced in 2012 with footage coming out of the first two hearings.

Opening five minutes
Scott Koepke and Squirrel


 Cedar Rapids, IA – Legion Arts, “Maize y Más,” October 8, 2015-January 3, 2016

Urbana, IL – The Interdependent Film Festival,  – July 31, 2014.

Chicago, IL – School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sullivan Galleries, 2013

St. Louis, MO – CAMP, 2013

Carbondale, IL – Carbondale Public Library, 2013

Detroit, MI – Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012

Iowa City, IA – Iowa City Public Library, 2012

Kassel, Germany – Documenta 13, 2012


Compass, “The Monsanto Hearings”, performance events and documentation, 2012-2014

Experiential Learning Projects

Because I believe my students learn best when something beyond their own coursework is at stake, I’ve undertaken a number of special projects in my classes. These have involved curating open-call exhibitions, showing work in exhibitions outside of the university, and producing work in the service of community organizations.

Guerilla Curating Film Program

Making the Invisible Visible – a screening curated by Guerilla Curating for Exuberant Politics, Spring 2014

Among these varied films are experiences, stories, and evidence of the realities of our history and our present that usually remain uncomfortably invisible and hidden. By forcing us to stare into the face of the realities of quiet prejudices (Why, MANUFACTURED BRITISHNESS), histories less known (778 Bullets, Reality 2.0) and the current sometimes hidden destruction of our living world (Living on the Edge), these films demand our at- tention as they powerfully direct our eyes and ears to their messages, making the invisible, visible.

Why, Borja Rodriguez (Spain, 5 min)
Reality 2.0, Victor Orozco (Germany/Mexico, 11 min)
778 Bullets, Angela Aguayo (US, 18 min)
Living on the Edge, Aaron Zeghers (Canada, 3.5 min)
MANUFACTURED BRITISHNESS, Kristina Cranfield (Great Britain, 12.5 min)

Work selected from an open call by Kelly Gallagher, Jared Jewell, and Jaime Knight.

Collaborative Performance Documentation – Media Art Lab, Fall 2013

In cooperation with visiting choreographer and performance artist Esther Baker-Tarpaga, Media Art Lab students documented the installation/performance event created in the interdisciplinary course “Collaborative Performance.” Student teams worked with performers in each vignette to determine the best location and type of performance, then filmed the on-proscenium event on three consecutive evenings using a three-camera set-up. They then synchronized the video and edited short documentary vignettes to convey the feeling, but not full duration, of each piece. In the course of preparation we discussed the role of documentation in performance art.

Screen Capture Exhibition Poster

Screen Capture – an exhibition curated by Media Art Lab, Spring 2012

From the first moment that fire projected shadows onto the cave wall, people have used various types of screens to exhibit images and information. Today, we live in a society dominated by “screen culture.” We spend our days with screens: working with computers, texting on cell phones, relaxing with television, navigating by GPS, being distracted by moving billboards, and going to the movies. The ubiquity of screens in our lives obscures how different types of screens actually operate, both technologically and culturally. This exhibition explores the evolution of this screen culture and its myriad possibilities in transmission.

With my guidance, students in Media Art Lab devised and distributed the thematic call, selected exhibiting artists from over 50 submissions, installed the work, and promoted the show. The exhibition ran May 2-8, 2012 in Art Building West.

ArtistsRaphael Arrar (Cambridge, MA)
Liat Berdugo (Providence, RI)
Faith Holland (New York, NY)
Gabrielle McNally (Iowa City, IA)
Josh Rios (Chicago, IL)
Crystal Roethlisberger (Tulare, CA)
Steven Silberg (Catonsville, MD)
Ricardo Miranda Zuniga (New York, NY)

Symbiotic exhibition postcard

Symbiotic – a exhibition of work by students in Intermedia Workshop, Spring 2012

Symbiotic is the product of a temporary collaboration between Grand Valley’s Curatorial Studio and artists from the University of Iowa. It is a student-curated group show with a thematic emphasis on human impact and environmental intervention. The featured artists find common interest in matters of mapping and landscape, particularly in the relationship between our collective conceptions and depictions of the American heartland in both data and image. The GVSU Curatorial Studio here plays an intermediary role by joining geographically distinct locales with a concern for the interstitial space therein, both physical and cultural. The exhibition ran April 13-14, 2012 at the Gallery @ 1Division in Grand Rapids, MI.

Winter with Art & Ecology infrastructure at Miller-Orchard Community Garden

Art & Ecology Projects at the Miller-Orchard Community Garden, Spring and Fall 2011

The Spring and Fall 2011 Art and Ecology classes undertook community-based projects at the Miller-Orchard Community Garden, located near the Studio Arts Building on Iowa City’s southwest side.  Following extensive readings on community-based art, meetings with gardeners, and research into the neighborhood, the students proposed, developed, and carried out projects in the garden. In both semesters, students opted to develop useful and beautiful infrastructure for the garden, building entranceway trellises from on-site materials; installing an underground vermiculture (worm composting) bin; and constructing message centers to facilitate communication between gardeners and with the general public.

Food Roots Cover

Food Roots – a local foods community cookbook, Spring 2010

Food Roots was a collaboration between Local Foods Connection (LFC) and the Art and Ecology class at the University of Iowa. Over the course of several months, 14 students and an LFC volunteer interviewed several of the organization’s client families and social service agencies, in addition to the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmers from whom it purchases fresh food. Students also conducted background research and spearheaded the design and layout of the book using photographs supplied by LFC. The cookbook highlights Iowa City’s diverse food knowledge and educates the community about cooking and nutrition. Clients and farmers interviewed for this book come from Illinois, Iowa, California, Mexico, Guatemala, Republic of the Sudan, the Togolese Republic, El Salvador, and Thailand. The project assembles the knowledge and experiences of LFC’s clients and channels student skills and energies to become involved in the community and in local issues such as poverty, hunger, and food justice in Johnson County.

Local Foods Connection enrolls low-income families and the agencies that serve them in CSA programs. CSAs provide a season’s worth of fresh produce to consumers while paying local earth-friendly farmers fair prices for the food they grow, raise, and produce. Clients have the opportunity to visit a farm, as well as to learn healthy cooking methods. These opportunities are part of LFC’s larger educational program, which covers nutrition, cooking, and environmental issues.

Download as PDF: Food Roots Cookbook (26 MB, without cover)

Guerilla Curating

Out of the gallery and into the streets! This project-based workshop immerses students in the fiercely independent world of alternative art spaces, public art interventions, and artist-organized exhibitions. In addition to screenings, discussions, and readings on artist-led organizations and independent curating, students will gain hands-on experience conceiving, organizing, and promoting arts events. The class will collaboratively contribute to designing, mounting, and promoting an open-call exhibition at Public Space One in Iowa City and Legion Arts in Cedar Rapids in conjunction with the “Exuberant Politics” program. Students will also conceive and carry out temporary exhibitions that creatively exploit the margins and harness the potential of overlooked spaces on campus and in the community.

Course Materials

Download as PDF: Spring 2014 Guerilla Curating Syllabus

Level: Upper Division Undergraduate/Graduate


Jaime Knight (MFA, Printmaking) and Amanda Murphy (MFA, Sculpture), “Awkward Sex Stories,” Spring 2014

This project was inspired by Lauren Berlant’s Keynote speech at the Affect and Inquiry symposium in Iowa City. Berlant discussed jokes as being the most intimate genre, both “delivering and denying the intimacy,” of social reciprocity. She discussed jokes and awkwardness in relation to sex and our society’s erotophobia, as a way to overcome shame and question sexual subjectivity. Anonymously submitted stories of awkward (not not traumatic) sexual encounters installed in the pillows of a hotel room for a one-night only exhibition. Audio archived online at

Christopher Willauer (BFA, Intermedia), “Second Aid Kits,” Spring 2014

 Second Aid Kits uses artistic expression to transform first aid kits into opportunities to experience art that offers aid based on their site-specific location. Inspired by the accessibility and practicality of first aid kits, Second Aid Kits encourages viewers to take out as needed to aid themselves in the delicate emotional situations often encountered in the environments where the kits are installed. Pictured kit by Kevynne Wimberly installed in women’s bathrooms in several bars in the Iowa City area.

Melanie Slattery (BFA, Graphic Design), “Yeah, These Happened,” Spring 2014

A series of historical markers installed on campus to satirically commemorate user-submitted place-based memories of their college years.

Select Student Comments

“Sarah more than any teacher I have engages with students on an even plain or at least helps them realize their work in a professional context. She gives equal attention to project while pushing us to utilize our individual strengths as well as collaborating with other students. I believe she has personal interests in a type of work which will push students a certain direction temporarily but [is] still open to almost any art making-ways.” (Spring 2014)

“This is my favorite topics class that I have taken as a grad student. There was a good blend of practice, theory, craft, critical thinking, and I was able to relate it to my studio practice in a cohesive way that doesn’t always occur in topics classes. Also, the Skypes with practicing artists/curators was one of the highlights of the class.” (Spring 2014)

Art & Ecology

A performer reading from a clipboard wearing a papier mache a zebra head
Mollie Goldstrom (MFA, Printmaking), “1883,” Art & Ecology – Spring 2011

Structured as a collaborative, creative research group, Art & Ecology explores artistic responses to environmental sustainability and related social issues. In the first half of the semester, the course examines select themes in environmental discourse, paying particular attention to how artists have engaged them. In the second half of the semester, students develop collaborative or individual projects that may take the form of social/relational art practice, video, installation, performance, writing, sound, 2- or 3D forms, and/or electronic media. In-class activities are supplemented with field trips, screenings, and guest presentations, and special effort is made to connect students to university and community resources. Emphasis is placed on critical approaches rooted in the humanities, but students are welcome from all disciplines. Students from disciplines outside the arts are encouraged to contact the instructor prior to the first day of class.

Course Materials

Download as PDF: Fall 2013 Art & Ecology Syllabus

Download as PDF: Fall 2011 Art & Ecology Syllabus

Download as PDF: Spring 2011 Art & Ecology Syllabus

Download as PDF: Spring 2010 Art & Ecology Syllabus

Download as PDF: Spring 2009 Intermedia Topics Syllabus

Level: Upper-division Undergraduate/Graduate

Note: This course first offered as Intermedia Topics before being overhauled to incorporate service-learning/community-based practice. It then became a regular course offering in Intermedia and part of the sustainability certificate program.

Student Work

Two people lash together saplings
Corinne Teed (MFA, Printmaking), Emma Steinkraus (MFA, Painting), and Angela Barr (BFA, Intermedia), “Beaver Memorial Lodge,” Fall 2013.

Organizing over a dozen people to participate in the (community) building process, Teed, Barr and Steinkraus built a memorial beaver lodge to commemorate the Studio Arts’ beaver family that disappeared in the Fall of 2012, when Hodge Commercial Management decided to drain the neighboring pond.

People lie on floor beneath brightly colored quilt while others touch cloth samples on the walls
Sarita Zaleha (MFA, Printmaking), “Mourning Warming,” interactive/participatory, Fall 2013.

Global Warming Blanket, a sensor-activated heated quilt, positions participants as agents of temperature change. The rising temperature of the blanket corresponds to the data on global temperature increases, with 10 minutes of increasing blanket heat correlating to 100 years of global warming. The quilt-top is a graph of these global temperature increases from 1910-2010, showing an increase of roughly 1.5˚F over this time span. Scientists link the rise in global temperatures with increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes and typhoons.

Wooden sump with mud stencil reading "Listen to Change"
Brendan Baylor (MFA, Printmaking), Sarita Zaleha (MFA, Printmaking), and Anne Covell (MFA, Book Arts), “Listen,” architectural intervention, Fall 2013

Our seating/listening project’s goals were to make Studio Arts more habitable as well as connect others to the environment through sound. We arranged stumps along the front of Studio Arts and used mud to stencil text on the ground in front of the stumps. The text directed viewers/participants to listen to/for specific things that could be broadly applied (silence, atmosphere, pace, change, etc.).

Wooden boxes protrude at an angle from the wall with vinyl letters reading "temporary"
Daniel Feinberg (MFA, Sculpture), “Commensurate with Experience,” wall sculpture, Fall 2011.

This wall installation questions to what extent ideas of being temporary or being permanent differ from one another, ecologically speaking. Temporary conditions have unforeseeable long-term effects; what we believe to be permanent in our human lifespan is but a blip on the scale of geological time.  From a certain vantage point the two concepts might prove indistinguishable from one another.

Jeffrey P. Palmer (Kiowa), “Effigy,” Spring 2011

This short documentary explores the spiritual energy and essence of Effigy Mounds National Park in Northeastern Iowa. The land is origin point for many tribal groups in the Midwest.

Three very large models of potatoes
Allison Kinney (BS, Environmental Studies), “A Lot of Tator Tots,” Spring 2011.

Scaled paper mache potatoes representing the number of steps in the supply chain of 4 different potato-based meals. Fast Food French Fries (61x34inches), Mircrowaveable Organic Meal (34x17inches), Industrially grown whole potato (42x26inches), and a locally grown organic whole potato (real potato used, approximately 4×2.5 inches). All materials were recycled and/or locally sourced.

Vintage suitcase containiing canning supplies
Caitlin Digman (BFA, Sculpture and BS, Environmental Science) and Ellis Mumford (BA, Art History), “Homesteading Skill Kit,” Spring 2010.

Select Student Comments

“This class was incredibly engaging and challenged students to interact with contemporary critical theory in an inspiring way. The process of collaboration in group projects was really educational and important to effectively putting into practice the theory we were reading.” (Fall 2013)

“Every time I take a course with Sarah Kanouse, I am challenged and pushed out of my creative and intellectual comfort zone, resulting in creative work that exceeds my own expectations.” (Fall 2013)

“I felt like this was an excellent course. Coming from a background with no art experience, I felt welcomed. There were times I was in a little over my head, but these were not overly common. The readings were appropriate. You were extremely helpful outside of class.” (Fall 2011)

“Professor Kanouse is extremely energetic and thoughtful about the course material and is one of the gems of the entire department. She encourages the development of a critical perspective towards culture in general while stressing the unique cultural position artists are in as producers, interpreters, and conveyers of heightened experience that search to imagine the world as a better place.” (Spring 2010)

“At first, I felt somewhat frustrated by the structure of this class – mostly readings and presentations with less emphasis on making things until the last few weeks. However, in the end, it turned out to be really valuable because that restraint and delay of making forced me to put more effort than ever before into research, and changed my work dramatically in every class across the board.” (Spring 2010)

“Sarah is an extremely intelligent and passionate artist and teacher. It is clear that she has expertise in the field and is very knowledgeable in particular about Art and Ecology. The slide shows and readings were always pertinent to the course…I think it is commendable that Sarah challenges the students and incorporates such theoretical discourse and conversations about contemporary practice (i.e. what artists are doing now). Her course has made me more aware of the bigger picture of contemporary art practice and I feel more engaged with the pressing and urgent dialogues that artists are addressing – it has definitely changed my view (in a very positive way) of the role of the artist in our society.” (Spring 2009)

“This is easily my best class in grad school – I greatly appreciate the energy and rigor you’ve sewn into the course.” (Spring 2009)


Notes on Affective Practice: An Exchange

Over the last several years, a loose and shifting group of artists, activists, and thinkers has been exploring and creating work about the various forces, both top-down and grassroots, that shape neighborhoods, cities, and rural places in the globalized American Midwest. The Compass, as we are known, is a collective project of understanding where we are located—geographically, historically, culturally, economically, and ecologically—and of inhabiting, traversing, building and narrating what we call the Midwest Radical Culture Corridor. In this experimental, epistolary essay—part anecdote, part theory, part conversation—two Compass participants critically reflect on the group’s methods and collaborative structure. We analyze the micropolitics of our annual summer drifts and winter retreats in light of militant research, critical tourism, affective activism, and a politics of love.

Kanouse, Sarah and Heath Schultz, “Notes on Affective Practice: An Exchange,” Parallax 19:2 (2013) pp 7-20.

Download as PDF

Around Crab Orchard

Vintage Photograph of Bunkers
Video still, Around Crab Orchard

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.


Twenty-Minute Excerpt

Select Screenings

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.

Exuberant Politics

Demonstration with pink letters reading Exuberant Politics

“Rather than advocate for a capital “P” Party [Democrat, Republican, Green…], we wanted to bring the ‘lower case ‘p’’ party where we could create an atmosphere where people were comfortable enough to dance and chat about politics.”

-Rachel Caidor and Dara Greenwald, “The 7 Ps of Pink Bloque”

“Exuberant Politics” is a yearlong program at the University of Iowa examining recent intersections of art and activism in the US. Grassroots political actions have increasingly used creative, performative means not merely to communicate a message but to create transformative, aesthetic experiences that prefigure a more just and democratic world. Exuberance means joyfulness, liveliness, even superabundance, but at its Latin root it is also ‘fruitful’ and ‘productive.’ Where have we experienced exuberance in protest and affinity? What has it produced, and how? Focusing on the period roughly bookmarked by the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle and varied initiatives stemming from Occupy Wall Street (Occupy Sandy, Strike Debt, etc.), the program will bring together numerous campus and community groups for a series of screenings, lectures, workshops, exhibitions, and panel discussions in the 2013-2014 school year.

Students in Guerilla Curating were involved in installing the exhibitions at Public Space One, Legion Arts, and the screening program.

More information:


Adam Burke, John Engelbrecht, Sarah Kanouse, Jason Livingston, Kalmia Strong, and Charlie Williams, “Exuberant Politics,” 2013-2014

Video as Art

Young man playing basson with writing over image
Dana Telsrow (BA, Art and Music), “Telsrow Performing Baldessari In The Style of Baldessari Singing Sol LeWitt in The Style of Telsrow After Baldessari,” Video as Art – Spring 2013.

Hands-on experience in video production for the artist! This intensive course teaches skills in digital video capture, editing, and presentation while providing an overview of video in the contemporary arts, including storytelling, installation, performance, and documentation. Several skill-building assignments lead to the creation of a final, self-initiated creative project.

Course Materials

Download as PDF: Spring 2013 Video as Art Syllabus

Level: Intermediate Undergraduate

Student Work: “After____________”

Restage one of the early performance-based videos from the list provided. Your goal is not merely to repeat but rather to re-invent the original. Consider what it means to re-enact the piece some 35-40 years after the original performance was put on tape. How has the historical context changed, and in what ways is it the same? What idiosyncrasies, blind spots, or attributes of its time can be addressed or updated through your restaging? What quirks of our present cultural moment might be illuminated by including them in your reperformance? How does taking documentation of a performance – largely planned but unscripted—and using it as a ‘text’ change its meaning? In short, what does the present have to say to— and through—this artifact of the past?

Your reenactment may take great liberties with the original piece, but your documentation plan should include shooting at least one full-length shot that maintains the camera-on-tripod grammar of the original video work. Consider your video documentation carefully: by using multiple cameras and editing, you may be able to emphasize elements of the performance in ways the original artist could not.

Ian Abrams (BFA, Drawing), “Bicycle Mechanic (After William Wegman),” Spring 2013.
Tony Ramos (BFA, Graphic Design), “Rolling Device (After Bruce Nauman),” Spring 2013.

Student Work: “Un/Reliable Narrators”

Conduct an interview with one or more individuals totaling about 30 minutes in length. Use this footage as the basis for a video in which you examine how authenticity and trustworthiness are established or undermined in the media image. The goal is not to ‘trick’ the viewer but rather to foster reflexivity and criticality about how narrators are constructed as believable or untrustworthy, as sympathetic or unsympathetic, as individuals or representative of a group. Taking the works screened in class as a point of departure, you may:

  • Radically edit the interviewee’s words while exposing your authorial hand (Omer Fast)
  • Use actors to blur the boundary between authentic and inauthentic testimony (Sam Taylor-Wood)
  • Manipulate or withhold a speaker’s image (Jacqueline Goss)
  • Replace the words of one speaker with those of another (Gillian Wearing)
  • Allow a speaker’s singularity to slowly emerge (Candice Breitz)
  • Or some other formal gesture that self-reflexively reveals the production of truth in the context of documentary.
Tyler Lynch (BA, Film/Video Production), “These Ideal Forms,” Spring 2013.

Student Work: “Ubiquitous Images”

The moving image detritus of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is at your disposal like never before; you probably generate at least some of it every day yourself. Taking recent works (2000-present) screened in class as a point of departure, create a short video piece that reflects on the status of the moving image a century after its popularization and two decades into the Internet. Pick one formal or conceptual approach from each list.

  • Material: Found footage, Genre Conventions
  • Look: Plug-in Effects, Digital Degeneration
  • Form: Black Box Screening; Video in/as space or object
Angela Barr (BFA, Intermedia), “No Metal, No Nails,” Spring 2013.
Tyler Lynch (BA, Film/Video Production), “8 Hours of YouTube,” Spring 2013.

Select Student Comments

“I wanted to thank you for being a great teacher. Video as Art was definitely one of my favorite classes that I have ever taken, and I do wish that I would have discovered my propensity for visual art sooner in my collegiate career. You have a balance between cool-ness and teacher-ness that made it easy for me to become excited about my own ideas and approaches and I appreciate the freedom I had to explore my own pathways. Thanks for helping me think through some of my wonderings as an artist.” (by email, Spring 2013)