An Anti-Racist and Anti-Colonial Anthropocene for Compromised Times

A large group gathers under a shade tent for a discussion.The tent has a banner reading "Indigenous"
Discussion with Clint Carroll and Beth Rose Middleton Manning during “Over the Levee, Under the Plow,” an experimental seminar organized for Mississippi: An Anthropocene River, September 2019.

The anticipated formal adoption of the Anthropocene by the International Union of Geological Sciences offers an opportunity to develop forms of praxis informed by anti-racist and anti-colonial critiques of the Anthropocene and its mid-twentieth century start date. Moving beyond the impasse of the Anthropocene debates requires a broad suite of methods and voices. This short essay places Michael Egan’s concept of “survival science” in dialog with unexpected interlocutors historian Ibram X. Kendi and philosopher Alexis Shotwell to argue for explicitly anti-racist and anti-colonial praxis grounded in an ethic of humility. Reflections on a seminar organized by the authors for the recent research platform Mississippi: An Anthropocene River ground the theoretical work of Kendi and Shotwell in a concrete, if experimental attempt to work with the Anthropocene concept in anti-racist and anti-colonial ways, responsive to the specific entanglements of place.

Credit

Nicholas A Brown and Sarah E Kanouse, “Perspectives and controversies: An anti-racist and anti-colonial Anthropocene for compromised times,” Anthropocene Review (2021), https://doi.org/10.1177/20530196211000080.

Common Tensions, an essay for New Infrastructures

A clearing in the woods contains a yurt, truck, campfire, and two additional tents in the foreground.
A portion of the encampment from the 2017 Kickapoo Conversation. Photo by Nicholas Brown.

Based in the hilly, unglaciated Driftless Area of the upper Midwest of the United States, Common/Place is a self-organized, off-the-grid platform for ecological resilience, cultural inquiry, and land-based pedagogy. The rustic setting offers a space to examine how such rural spaces have been both produced by and mobilized within the linked projects of capitalist extraction and settler colonial extermination and to connect and grow the nodes of resistance always present within such systems. Our primary project up to this point has been a series of experimental seminars assembling artists, writers, and cultural workers to learn from and with naturalists, historians, farmers, citizens of the Indigenous Ho-Chunk Nation, and the land itself. This grounded creative research and pedagogy generates a network of informal relationships that connect the urban and rural to break through the present moment of political retrenchment and set the stage for social and ecological cooperation in the face of the climate chaos to come. This practice-based, epistolary essay reflects on the first four years of Common/Place, highlighting constitutive tensions and continued negotiations around property, relationships, ecology, and time—individual, generational, and geological—that can quickly become sedimented in infrastructure and no longer open to question.

Credit

Sarah Kanouse and Nicholas Brown, “Common Tensions,” Passepartout 22, no. 40 (2020), 183-208.

Special issue: New Infrastructures—Performative Infrastructures in the Art Field

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.

To All To Whom These Presents Shall Come, Greetings

Composite image showing forest inset in two overlapping rectangles inside a purple-tinted antique map
Sarah Kanouse, still from “To All to Whom These Presents Shall Come, Greetings,” 2020

Property subtends the Anthropocene. Modern European property theory rests on colonization and chattel slavery—inseparable institutions that bound far-flung continents, ecologies, and people in brutally unequal relations. Property-thought and an ideology of improvement suffuse Western subjectivity. The imagined political community of liberal democracies is still marked by a tradition limiting full citizenship to property-owning, self-possessive individuals. This same ideology can be traced across such disparate phenomena as HGTV reality shows, middle-class health and wellness fads, the “stand your ground” laws that cost Trayvon Martin his life, and opposition to regulations that might stave off climate catastrophe. In the Anthropocene, what Black Panther Huey P. Newton called “survival pending revolution” demands moving beyond the stranglehold of property-thought to embody more porous and accountable ways of relating to land, people, more-than-human beings, and ourselves.

A continuation of the artist’s book, Beyond Property, this short essay film and series of ten prompts offers the audience directions to think beyond a property paradigm in relating to the more-than-human world in a moment of rapid geo-eco-social transformation. A meditation on deeptime, the violence of property, and survival in the face of attempted genocide and ecological loss. The title is taken from the first land patents awarded under the Homestead Act that transformed Ho Chunk territory into settler property–begging the question of to whom these “presents” came vs. from whom they were taken. Audio excerpted from a conversation with Bill Quackenbush, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer of the Ho-Chunk Nation, and sound of the creatures of woods and meadow of my family’s 160-acre parcel of land in Wisconsin.

Created for the HKW’s exhibition “The Current” in conjunction with the Fall 2020 seminar “The Shape of a Practice.” Additional cards created as companions to the booklets Field Guides to the Anthropocene Drift produced in 2019 by Ryan Griffis, Heather Parrish and Corinne Teed.

Download printable prompt cards (84 mb, pdf)

Credit

Sarah Kanouse, From All to Whom These Presents Shall Come, Greetings, 2020. HD video, color/sound, 4 mins and a collection of ten prompts for embodied exploration of and resistance to property. Sound mixing by Jacob Ross, card design by Ryan Griffis.

Animate Landscapes

Composite of two animation images. On the left is a white man on horseback near a monument splattered with oil, on the right is a handdrawn mountain
Composite publicity image featuring stills from Annapurna Kumar and Sarah Kanouse

The escalating climate crisis is making visible what was always true: no neat boundary exists between human and more-than-human worlds. “Nature” is a social fiction turned material fact, used to justify everything from resource extraction to wilderness preservation to racial hierarchies. The land and organisms we shape become the contours of our world. They form the basis of all sustenance, imprint themselves in our psyches, undergird the built environment, and enliven cultural narratives. This 90-minute collection of experimental media explores the bio-geo-social lives of the land and its actors, both human and more-than, through a range of experimental approaches, including meditation, animation, documentation, collage, and performance.

Core Films

The Bear in the Valley, Deke Weaver, 2019, 38:00

Grassland, Sarah Kanouse, 2019, 19:20

Rotating Short Media Selections

Dear Climate, Hello Virus, 2012, 5:46

Kelly Gallagher, Ceallaigh at Kilmainham, 2013, 7:14

Tia-Simone Gardner, There’s Something in the Water, 2019, 6:12

Julia Hechtman, Double Blind, 2017, 2:35

Heidi Kumao, Swallowed Whole, 2014, 4:06

Annapurna Kumar, Mountain Castle Mountain Flower Plastic, 2017, 3:08

Anna Luisa Petrisko, In The Tree, 2017, 3:48

Vanessa Renwick, The Mighty Tacoma, 2011, 9:11

Corinne Teed, Feral Utopias, 2015, 7:00

Marina Zurkow, Hydrocarbons, 2011, 2:32

Screening History

Strikethrough indicates Coronavirus cancellation

Nightingale Cinema, Chicago, IL – May 21, 2020

Cellular Cinema, Minneapolis, MN -May 17, 2020 – guest curated by Corinne Teed

Northwest Film Center, Portland, OR – May 14, 2020

Echo Park Film Center, Los Angeles, CA – April 11, 2020

Rhizome DC, Washington, DC – October 12, 2019

Public Space One, Iowa City, IA – September 30, 2019

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.

My Electric Genealogy

Woman in man's dress shirt and tie with elegant 1930s hat looks upward toward her raised finger before a projection of arcing electricity and a vintage photo of a woman in a similar hat
Composite performance still, “My Electric Genealogy,” 2020

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, 90-minute 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. What does it mean to raise another human being in a climate-ravaged world, and can that act of social reproduction become a project of social and political transformation?

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.

Trailer

Excerpt

Credit

Sarah Kanouse, My Electric Genealogy, performance, work-in-progress anticipated 2020.

Sound by Jacob Ross and Beau Kenyon

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.