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.

Native Space: Headwaters and Homelands

Closeup of vintage map showing Upper and Lower Mystic Ponds
Closeup of Upper and Lower Mystic Ponds from an 1878 map of the Boston water works, courtesy Levanthal Map Library, Boston Public Library

This five and a half-minute audio piece was produced in collaboration with Elizabeth Solomon, an enrolled member of council of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag, and commissioned for the summer 2021 outdoor audio public art installation Sound on Mystic for the cities of Medford and Arlington and the Mystic River Watershed Association.

Medford, along with most of greater Boston, sits within the lands of the Massachusett people and, despite development, it continues to be Native space. Elizabeth Solomon returns to the headwaters of the Mystic River to decolonize the view from the shores of Mystic Lake. 

Solomon speaks about the Saunkskwa of Missitekw, the 17th century Massachusett leader who helped guide her people through the political shockwaves, environmental disruption, and epidemic plagues that accompanied colonization. The Massachusett people maintain their relationship to this place into the present day.

Exhibition

Arlington and Medford, MA – Sound on Mystic, a platform developed by Ian Coss, Dwayne A. Johnson, and Gary Roberts, May 15-August 31, 2021.

Credits

Sarah Kanouse with Elizabeth Solomon, “Native Space: Headwaters and Homelands,” stereo audio, 5 minutes 57 seconds, 2021.

Cello by Kristien Creamer, mixing by Ian Coss.

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.