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.

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)

Exhibitions

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

Credit

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

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

Hearings

Carbondale, IL (2012)

Iowa City, IA (2012)

St. Louis, MO (2013)

Greene County, OH (2014).


Project Archive

http://monsantohearings.net

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

Exhibitions/Screenings

 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

Credit

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

Performing Haymarket

After over a century of official silence, the City of Chicago dedicated a new monument to the Haymarket Affair, one of the central events in the history of labor activism and radical politics worldwide, in 2004. The monument signaled a profound change in how divergent views on Haymarket are managed, and the monument’s iconography and inscription, as well as the media coverage surrounding it, emphasized themes of consensus and closure. Yet the new monument is not the only memorial to have been placed on the site, and in the past century a range of much more explicitly partisan commemorations have taken place there. This paper critically considers performative memorials inspired by anarchist observances but coming out of arts practice, with special attention given to the poetics and politics implied by this work. The author’s own memorial performance is discussed in detail; also addressed are works by Brian Dortmund, Kehben Grifter, and Michael Piazza.

Kanouse, Sarah, “Performing Haymarket,” ACME: An International E-Journal of Critical Geographies, 7(1): 69-87,

Download PDF: Performing Haymarket