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

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.

Beyond Survival

Screenshot of web publication featuring partial image and text
Screenshot from web publishing project, Beyond Survival (2018-19)

In the winter and spring of 2018 I found myself frustrated equally by the annual Republican call to defund the NEH and NEA and by the contortions performed by many scholars and cultural workers conform narrow range of “fundability.” I approached Art Journal Open to convene a forum on the state of “support” for the arts and humanities today – broadly defined. “Beyond Survival” began as an open call for reflections on the state of arts funding in the United States as it actually manifests today. I hoped to facilitate a conversation that would go beyond shoring up the inadequate conditions of the present to consider the social functions fulfilled—and left unfilled—by the current landscape of support, as well as what emerging forms of artistic, intellectual, and political agency can be taken to affirmatively shape more desirable conditions in the future.

In October 2018, Art Journal Open published nearly twenty five responses grouped into four thematic categories: Beyond Neoliberalism, In Whose Interest?, Precarity and Potential, and Models and Case Studies. We invited four respondents to develop slightly longer position papers, which were released in Spring 2019. Over a year after the project was conceived I revisited the original prompt and the responses in a short essay in terms of the socio-ecological urgencies of the climate emergency.

See Beyond Survival on Art Journal Open

Summer Short-Form Writing

I was fortunate to receive several invitations this spring and summer to contribute reviews and position papers to several interesting arts-academic web publications. The relatively short form and swift turnaround time is a welcome change from my usual pace of writing and making, where individual projects usually require at least year. Taken together, they do a pretty good job capturing my current preoccupation and commitments: that the climate emergency is now at the heart of everything and that it cannot be addressed without grappling deeply with violent epistemologies of colonial and white supremacist thought.

Sarah Kanouse, Review of Michael Allen’s “How Not What: Anthropocene Landscapes of St. Louis,” Forty-Five, May 21, 2019.

Sarah, Kanouse, “Outside, Beyond the Frame,” Panorama 5:1, June 19 2019.

Sarah Kanouse, “Surviving Extinction,” Art Journal Open, August 12, 2019.

A People’s Atlas of Nuclear Colorado

Line drawing map of US nuclear missile fields
Minuteman Nuclear Missile Fields, National Park Service map

A People’s Atlas of Nuclear Colorado is a digital public humanities project that documents and interprets nuclear geographies and legacies of the Cold War. The Atlas draws together background information, archival materials, accessible scholarly essays, artist interventions, and narratives of individuals and communities on the front lines of the domestic Cold War. Grounded in the specific location of Colorado and its nuclear materials and ecologies, the Atlas allows users to explore the US nuclear complex and its many scales of operation, relational geographies, and troubling future. It serves as a resource and as an interactive and inclusive digital platform where community members, activists, artists, veterans, workers, and policymakers can shape Cold War legacies through active interpretation. The Atlas aspires to be a civic infrastructure for citizen involvement in knowledge-making and policy.

The stakes in assembling, presenting, and interpreting the ongoing legacies of the American nuclear complex have never been higher. Amidst the fraying of international agreements and multibillion-dollar investments in new weapons, the world is poised on the brink of a new arms race. During the Cold War, hundreds of communities across the United States and the world were involved in (or subjected to) some aspect of nuclear weapons production, whether mining and enrichment, weapons production, testing, and deployment, or decommissioning and remediation. These activities have deeply marked human lives and ecologies in these places, yet there is little public awareness to inform citizen and policy action around a revived nuclear weapons program or in response to the complex multi-sited Cold War hazards that remain..

Powered by the Scalar publishing platform, the Atlas structures information according to the nuclear fuel cycle, from extraction, milling, and processing, to the assembly and deployment of weapons, and finally, to the storage and monitoring of waste. It challenges, however, conventional models of this process by weaving in its “shadow side:” environmental contamination, workplace exposures, boom and bust economies, geopolitical instability. Navigable both by browsing thematic paths and searching by keyword, the Atlas enables users to draw connections across different parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, build multi-sited understandings of nuclear issues, and generate new scalar relationships—between the local and the planetary, between policy and the personal. It presents cartographic, textual and image-based information on nuclear processes, and invites different knowledges and forms of meaning- making (geospatial, historical, oral-historical first person, etc.). The Atlas endeavors to be a living document that infuses discussion about nuclear policy and memory with humanistic forms of inquiry and public engagement.

The project uses the Scalar publishing platform created by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture based at USC, with a custom interface design by Byse Studio. It is also supported organizationally by NuLab: The Center for Maps, Texts, and Networks at Northeastern University.

Credit

Sarah Kanouse and Shiloh Krupar, A People’s Atlas of the Nuclear United States, work in progress.

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

Notes on Affective Practice: An Exchange

Over the last several years, a loose and shifting group of artists, activists, and thinkers has been exploring and creating work about the various forces, both top-down and grassroots, that shape neighborhoods, cities, and rural places in the globalized American Midwest. The Compass, as we are known, is a collective project of understanding where we are located—geographically, historically, culturally, economically, and ecologically—and of inhabiting, traversing, building and narrating what we call the Midwest Radical Culture Corridor. In this experimental, epistolary essay—part anecdote, part theory, part conversation—two Compass participants critically reflect on the group’s methods and collaborative structure. We analyze the micropolitics of our annual summer drifts and winter retreats in light of militant research, critical tourism, affective activism, and a politics of love.

Kanouse, Sarah and Heath Schultz, “Notes on Affective Practice: An Exchange,” Parallax 19:2 (2013) pp 7-20.

Download as PDF

A Post-Naturalist Field Kit for Saint-Henri

Wood box with multiple partitions and instruments
A Post-Naturalist Field Kit (detail)

“A Post-Naturalist Field Kit” updates the naturalist’s toolbox for the exploration of the social ecologies of urban landscapes. The project includes artifacts for exploring environmental issues in the city — from specimen jars to do-it-yourself air quality monitors — along with cards that prompt users to consider relationships among social, economic, and ecological issues.

Images

Post-Naturalist Cards

Post-Naturalist Field Kit Overview

Files

Download as PDF: Post-Naturalist Field Kit Cards

Download as PDF: Pamphlet on Saint-Henri

Exhibitions/Presentations

East Lansing, MI – (Scene) Metrospace Gallery
Detroit, MI – University of Michigan, work●detroit gallery
Montreal, Canada – Concordia University, Arts & Cartography Workshop

Credit

Sarah Kanouse, “A Post-Naturalist Field Kit for Saint-Henri,” 2010

What the Market Bares

Man looks directly at camera whilie another man watches a video projected on the window of a bus
What the Market Bares, installation shot, 2007

What the Market Bares is a site-specific video installation concerning labor migration and material culture. Installed on a bus as part of an artist residency, “The Return of the Gastarbeiter” in Kucevo, Serbia.

Videos

The first video below is documentation of the project, explaining the economic and social conditions specific to rural Serbia that the piece address. The second video was played in the installation, with added subtitles.

Publication

Drunken Boat 12, an online journal of art and literature, Fall 2010

Exhibitions

San Francisco, CA – University of California Santa Cruz, “Intervene! Interrupt! Art as Social Practice”

Berkeley, CA – University of California, Worth Rider Gallery, “Out of TimeSpace”

Kučevo, Serbia – Stanica, “Dolasci/Polasci”

Credit

Greenwald, Dara and Sarah Kanouse, “What the Market Bares,” 2007, HD video, 3 minute 47 second loop