An Anti-Racist and Anti-Colonial Anthropocene for Compromised Times

A large group gathers under a shade tent for a discussion.The tent has a banner reading "Indigenous"
Discussion with Clint Carroll and Beth Rose Middleton Manning during “Over the Levee, Under the Plow,” an experimental seminar organized for Mississippi: An Anthropocene River, September 2019.

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.

Credit

Nicholas A Brown and Sarah E Kanouse, “Perspectives and controversies: An anti-racist and anti-colonial Anthropocene for compromised times,” Anthropocene Review (2021), https://doi.org/10.1177/20530196211000080.

Blackhawk Park is Indigenous Land (Beyond Acknowledgment)

A picnic shelter frames a view of a bench looking out on a river. Two tan and green cloth banners hang from the shelter reading "Meet you here" and "Upon our lands"
Banners from Dylan Miner’s project “The Land is Always” installed on the banks of the Mississippi River at the opening event programming for Anthropocene Drift, September 25, 2019. by Katie Netti/Meredith Dallas

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.

Credit

Nicholas Brown, Ryan Griffis, and Sarah Kanouse. “Blackhawk Park Is Indigenous Land (Beyond Acknowledgment).” Anthropocene Curriculum, 2020.

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.

Monument to Cold War Victory Book Released

Sepia-toned collage art cover of the book
Monument to Cold War Victory book cover, detail

The catalogue to the competition and exhibition “Monument to Cold War Victory,” conceived by Yevgeniy Fiks and Stamatina Gregory, was released September 30 from The Cooper Union. Distributed through SPD, the catalog documents all winning entries, including the National TLC Service’s National Cold War Monuments and Environmental Heritage Trail, and features essays by Yevgeniy Fiks and Stamatina Gregory, Boris Groys, Nina Khrushcheva, and Joes Segal. Other artists include Yuri Avvakumov, Aziz + Cucher, Kim Beck, Constantin Boym, Camel Collective (Anthony Graves and Carla-Herrera Prats), Sasha Chavchavadze, Christoph Draeger, Deyson Golbert, Francis Hunger, Szabolcs KissPál, Angelo Plessas, Lisi Raskin, Dread Scott, Dolsy & Kant Smith, Société Réaliste, and Michael Wang.

Credit

Fiks, Yevgeniy and Stamatina Gregory, eds. Monument to Cold War Victory. New York: The Cooper Union, 2018: 100-103.

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.

Re-Collecting Black Hawk

Image of park sign reading "Blackhawk Park" in a mundane landscape

Re-collecting Black Hawk is a book-length, image-text essay exploring the cultural and political landscapes of the Midwest. It brings together roughly one hundred seventy photographs of historical markers and monuments, organizations, sports teams, consumer products, businesses, parks, subdivisions and other places that reference the 19th century Sauk leader Makataimeshekiakiak, more commonly known as Black Hawk. These photographs are arranged geographically and organized into chapters by state (Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin). Each image is paired with an appropriated text drawn from sources as wide ranging as press releases and scholarly histories, government reports and advertisements, and poetry and recipes published in tribal newspapers. Interwoven throughout are contributions by and interviews with activists, scholars, and tribal officials, who, in some cases, reflect on the image-text strategy and, in other cases, ground it in specific, current struggles around decolonization, self-determination, and cultural revitalization.

Re-Collecting Black Hawk is both a call and an attempt to practice landscape differently. It proceeds by staging a series of encounters between image and text, each with different implications in the realm of political imagination. The book’s title suggests holds a double meaning. In the most literal sense, it connotes the remembering of something past. The hyphen, however, hints at another, more active meaning. To re-collect is to gather again or to collect anew in the present. Or, following Bruno Latour, to re-collect is to reassemble Black Hawk to account the disconnect between past and present, absence and presence.

Released May 2015 by Pittsburgh University Press. See book website for excerpts and more information.