Anthropocene River Reflections

A crowd of people gather outdoors beneath oopen-sided tent
Gathering in Moraine: Terminal space at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, September 26, 2019.

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.

Additionally, I’ve contributed a few pieces of writing and media documenting some of the seminar events over on the Anthropocene Curriculum website: a reflection on Randy Poelma’s tour of Maa Wacacak, the Ho-Chunk land restoration at a former ammunition plant, and a video interview with Adrian Pochel of the Chi-Nations Youth Council, which spoke on the seminar’s concluding day in Saukenuk (Rock Island, IL).

Anthropocene Drift

Anthropocene Drift was 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.

Credits

Nicholas Brown, Ryan Griffis, Sarah Kanouse, Field Station 2: Anthropocene Drift, with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and Goethe Institute, Chicago.

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

Field Guide to the Anthropocene Drift: Beyond Property

Beyond Property Book Cover
Book Cover, Beyond Property (2019)

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 book cover

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.

Risographic cover printed at Spudnik Press, Chicago. Interior printed at Mission Press, Chicago.

Download PDF – 33 MB

Credit

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.

Ecologies of Acknowledgment

Meadow grasses in the foreground in front of waste processing digester.
Still from “Ecologies of Acknowledgment,” 2019

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.

Pedestal with stack of letterpress prints

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.

Exhibitions/Screenings

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.

Credits

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

Grassland

The collaged image of a monument to the Sand Creek Massacre is defaced with an oil-like substance and rises over a cutout from a Frederick Remington painting over a fracking pad in the background.
Still from Grassland (2019)

The experimental nonfiction film Grassland uses stop-motion animation, live action footage, text fragments, and expressive sound to excavate the stratigraphic layers of belief, ecology, practice, and geology that form a northeastern Colorado landscape. Carved out of decimated ranch lands during the Dust Bowl, the grassland is both a conservation zone and a working landscape. Cattle grazing, nuclear missiles, hydraulic fracturing, and wind power generation co-exist within a few miles of each other. Less explication than essay, the film locates the grassland in historic and geologic time, ranging over changing frameworks of law, ideology, and cosmology, variable and contradictory human practices, and the material and geological forces of the land itself. Meditative original footage of the grassland merges with collage animations created from diagrams, drawings, and found photography to portray the refuge’s subterranean activities, from well drilling to missile storage to soil sedimentation. The resulting nineteen-minute film is a poetic and unsettling portrait of a complex, evolving place.

Excerpt

Credits

Sarah Kanouse, “Grassland,” experimental nonfiction film, HD video, 19 minutes 15 second, 2019.

Sound design and mix by Jacob Ross

Screenings

Strikethrough indicates Coronavirus cancellations

Nightingale Cinema, Chicago, IL, May 21

Cellular Cinema, Minneapolis, May 17

NW Film Center, Portland, May 14

Emerald Earth Film Festival, Eugene, May 13

Echo Park Film Center, Los Angeles, April 11

Black Maria Film Festival 39th Annual Festival Tour, dates/locations TBA

Big Muddy Film Festival, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, February 2020

Artists’ Forum Festival of the Moving Image, New York, NY, October 18, 2019

Public Space One, Iowa City, September 30, 2019

Rhizome DC, Washington DC, October 12, 2019

Cineautopsia, Bogotá, Colombia, August 17, 2019.

Twisted Oyster Film and Media Festival, Kefalonia, Greece, May 9, 2019.

Experiments in Cinema, Albuquerque, April 18, 2019

Awards

Juror’s Citation, Black Maria Film Festival, Hoboken, NJ

Best Cinematography, Artists’ Forum Festival of the Moving Image, New York, NY

Honorable Mention, Experimental Forum, Los Angeles, CA.

Native Resurgence

Detail of black and white map
Native Resurgence Map Graphic

Native Resurgence” is a map and primer to sites of Native American resistance and ingenuity in the upper Midwest since the 1970s. Our goals are threefold. First, we want to place Native stories firmly in the center of our narrative; they too often occupy a position peripheral to the concerns of urban progressives and radicals. Second, we want to highlight successful examples of recent Native activism and tribal development, since stories of all-too-real victimization and discrimination tend to be the ones that most readily spring to the minds of politically conscious non-Natives. Finally, we hope that focusing on Midwestern Native politics might productively unsettle familiar narratives of Chicago’s urban processes, placing them in relation to a longer history of colonialism and dispossession, but also endurance and evolution.

From longstanding organizations such as the American Indian Center of Chicago—the nation’s oldest urban Indian center—to fleeting events such as the American Indian Chicago Conference of 1961 and the occupations at Chicago Indian Village, Belmont Harbor and Argonne National Laboratories in the early 1970s, Chicago itself has a rich history of Native survivance–the joint processes of survival and resistance. The implications of this history—what it enables us to do in a historical present haunted by racism and colonialism—become more clear when Chicago is de-centered from its position as the de facto capital of the Midwest and re-situated in a larger regional context. Not only will this dissolve the false dichotomy between urban and rural but, for our purposes, it allows us to begin seeing this land—from the Calumet River to Lac du Flambeau—for what it is: Indian Country.

Download as PDF: Native Resurgence Map

Credit

Kanouse, Sarah and Nicholas Brown, “Native Resurgence,” original print map collecting sites of Native American “survivance” since 1970, published in AREA: Art Research Education Activism, Vol. 9, Fall 2009 (special insert). Also selected for “10 AREAs/5 Years,” a publication retrospective for the US Social Forum

Driving East

Driving East

Driving East investigates how myths of American mobility developed during Manifest Destiny continue to operate today. We use the familiar form of the road trip to rethink how the present-day landscape was forged by the linked processes of white westward migration on the one hand and Indian removal and resistance on the other. By engaging with archival records, contemporary stories, images, and ephemera, we hope to uncover, recover, expose, and re-present traces of these histories still resonant, if barely legible, in the landscapes and politics of a place.  As white people, we believe these processes continue to shape the physical, social, and political spaces we inhabit today, most obviously through place names, museums, and memorials but more subtly through unconscious patterns of speech and behavior that reveal a great deal about how different groups of people imagine, inhabit and move through the United States.

Note: This project evolved into the photo-text book, Re-Collecting Black Hawk.

Exhibitions

Milwaukee, WI – Walker’s Point Center for the Arts

Credit

Nicholas Brown and Sarah Kanouse, “Driving East Through Indian Country,” video and photographic installation, self-published artists’ book on the commemorative landscapes of Westward Expansion, 2007.

Chasing Billy Caldwell

Part biography of an obscure early Chicago settler, part meditation on history and memory, identity and loyalty, landscape and amnesia.

 

Select Screenings

Ann Arbor, MI – The Gallery Project

San Francisco, CA – San Francisco Art Institute

New York, NY – Barnard College, WCA Video Shorts Festival

Carbondale, IL – Southern Illinois University

Credit

Sarah Kanouse, “Chasing Billy Caldwell,” HDV video, 7 min 44 sec, 2006