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.
Arlington and Medford, MA – Sound on Mystic, a platform developed by Ian Coss, Dwayne A. Johnson, and Gary Roberts, May 15-August 31, 2021.
Sarah Kanouse with Elizabeth Solomon, “Native Space: Headwaters and Homelands,” stereo audio, 5 minutes 57 seconds, 2021.
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.
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.
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.
The effects of the Anthropocene are not experienced evenly, and some are hit far harder than others. The seminar Over the Levee, Under the Plow took as its starting point one of these spaces: Blackhawk Park, a “wounded place” where the colonial ties of the Anthropocene become painfully palpable. While histories on settler colonization all too often treat it as a thing of the past, this essay, co-written with Ryan Griffis and Nicholas Brown, revises our opening statement from the seminar asking participants to consider their/our own implication in the settler colonial dimensions of the climate crisis.
After a year and a half of research, making, and organizing, Mississippi: An Anthropocene River wrapped up this November with the week-long “River Campus” in New Orleans. I was working with Ryan Griffis and Nicholas Brown on Field Station 2/Anthropocene Drift; our public program took place September 25-29. At the River Campus convocation in New Orleans, Nick, Ryan, and I offered some reflections on our program that included audio clips from some of our tours and described what we believe to be the political potentials opened up by really grappling with settler colonialism. These reflections have been combined with elements of the framing text we delivered at the opening of our seminar as Blackhark Park is Indigenous Land (Beyond Acknowledgment) over on our Medium page.
Anthropocene Driftwas a 18-month research-creation platform sited in the Driftless area of Wisconsin and spreading into Western Illinois undertaken in collaboration with Nicholas Brown and Ryan Griffis as part of Mississippi: An Anthropocene River. The territory is characterized by two distinct landscapes: the Driftless Area, defined by scenic hills and bluffs and spared from the effects of the Wisconsinan Glaciation, and the Corn Belt, defined by endless expanses of predominantly flat and rectilinear fields of monocrops. The geological histories that produced the striking topographical differences between these landscapes made colonization, settlement, and agriculture play out differently, which affects how these regions may far in the climate and cultural changes of the present and near-futures.
Anthropocene Drift produced three public-facing projects. Field Guides to the Anthropocene Drift is a series of artful guidebooks, each responding to a different cultural and/or scientific aspect of the Anthropocene in this geographical region. The second component of the Field Station is Over the Levee, Under the Plow, a four day mobile symposium that positions the agro-engineering of rural America within the broader framework of settler colonialism in order to attend to the historical, political and epistemic roots of the agricultural and environmental crisis. The third is Moraine/Terminal, a mobile gathering space and library that accompanied the symposium on its winding journey. Unfolding in small towns around the Mississippi River, the program brings together agroecologists, Native leaders, local residents, international scholars for a series of events, tours, and small group discussions to better understand the origins of the present landscape and to build alliances for more just and sustainable alternatives.
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.
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.
Sarah Kanouse, My Electric Genealogy, performance, work-in-progress anticipated 2020.
It is no accident that the development of modern European property theories also coincide with colonization and chattel slavery; indeed, they functioned both to justify and to motivate these practices, further driving geoplanetary transformations. These ideas undergird the everyday, Gramscian “common sense” of property: exclusive ownership by a self-possessive individual, legitimated by acts of “improvement” in terms legible to capital. This same ideology animates both the transformation of working-class apartments into luxury condos and right-wing opposition to the regulations that might mitigate climate catastrophe. In many ways, surviving the Anthropocene demands coming to grips with property, and fast.
More concretely, this book also orients readers to the landscapes of property in a particular place—the hilly, unglaciated or “Driftless” area of southwest Wisconsin—for a particular occasion: an experimental seminar offered in September 2019 as part of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s Mississippi: An Anthropocene River. It therefore interleaves more theoretical or (trans)national historical essays with accounts of how property has been practiced—and where it breaks down—in this corner of the rural Midwest. For example, it is illuminating to examine, with Cheryl Harris, how whiteness operates politically and cul- turally as a type of property. Applying this analysis to the racial violence faced by the Arms family and their white “race traitor” neighbor in 1960s Wisconsin allows us to grasp the lived textures of the race-property-nature nexus in an entirely different way. The varied, local experiences of what Eli Elinoff and Tyson Vaughan dub the “quotidian Anthropocene” highlight both the unevenness and relationality of planetary ecological transformations that the universalizing term tends to obscure.
Beyond Property is an artful field guide to the proposition that property is a key technology of the Anthropocene. At once theoretical and grounded, the booklet combines excerpts from key critical texts on property with collaged images built of observational sketches of the land and its constitutive elements (rocks, minerals), plat drawings, and bank security patterns.
Sarah Kanouse, Beyond Property, 2019. Part of Field Guides to the Anthropocene Drift, published by Field Station 2 with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and the Goethe Institute, Chicago.
Commissioned by the University Hall Gallery at UMass Boston for the exhibition Local Ecologies, this video and companion letterpress print focuses on the land use histories of Deer Island in the Boston Harbor. Going beyond mere ‘recognition’ of Native territory, the project asks instead what it means to accept the relationships and responsibilities that come with living on occupied land. In the 17th century, Deer Island was a forced Indian removal and incarceration site, where between 500 and 1,000 people suffered from dire conditions comparable to a concentration camp. It is now the site of the Boston’s wastewater treatment plant.
The framed land acknowledgment is presented alongside a stack of leaflet prints available for viewers to take away in the gallery venues at UMass Boston, which occupies Massachusett land. In traveling versions of the exhibition, an annotation of the original print poses questions that might guide viewers in acknowledging Indigenous claims to this territory.
The three women interviewed for this film are of Nipmuc, Massachusett, and Natick Nipmuc origin. In not identifying themselves by name, they seek to elevate the collective experience of their peoples, rather than their individual voices.
Boston, MA – Roxbury International Film Festival, June 17-26, 2021.
Medford, MA – Tufts University Art Gallery, “Artist Response,” September 8, 2020-May 15 2021.
Lowell, MA – UMass Lowell, University Gallery, “Local Ecologies,” January 21-March 6, 2020.
Dartmouth, MA – UMass Dartmouth, University Art Gallery, “Local Ecologies,” November 7, 2019-January 10, 2020.
Boston, MA – UMass Boston, University Hall Gallery, “Local Ecologies,” September 3-October 26, 2019.
Sarah Kanouse and Nicholas Brown, Ecologies of Acknowledgment, 2019. HD Essay film, 9 minutes, 53 seconds; three-color letterpress print, 12” x 19,” edition of 10; black and white letterpress print, 12″ x 19,” edition of 250.
Sound Mix: Jacob Ross
Letterpress: David Medina, Huskiana Press at Northeastern University