My Electric Genealogy

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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

Around Crab Orchard

Vintage Photograph of Bunkers
Video still, Around Crab Orchard

Crab Orchard calls itself “a unique place to experience nature.” As the only wildlife refuge in the United States whose mission includes industry and agriculture alongside conservation and recreation, Crab Orchard claims a harmonious balance between uses and users that strike many as incompatible. This story of harmony is maintained through the production and enforcement of physical, visual, and political boundaries — boundaries that, once crossed, quickly dissolve. This essayistic documentary maps the filmmaker’s discovery of Crab Orchard’s complex and hybrid nature. When a request by a security guard to put away the camera leads to a surprise visit by the FBI, the filmmaker begins a journey to uncover the refuge’s history and understand its contradictory present. Crab Orchard’s status as a contaminated refuge emerges less as an exception and more an example of the power and perils of “nature” as we understand it today. From its use by historic Native Americans as a source of food, its continued role in an economically vulnerable region, and the use of its polluted lake as a water source, the film explores themes of invisibility, loss, and shared but profoundly unequal risk. Assembled from documents, found footage, and conversations with activists, writers, and local residents, the film meditates on the persistence of history, the creation of knowledge, the limits of representation, and the commonplace of environmental hazard. “Around Crab Orchard” ultimately argues for forms of storytelling, image-making, and activism that cross existing conceptual boundaries to respond to the full complexity of the social and ecological landscape.

Trailer

Twenty-Minute Excerpt

Select Screenings

Emerald Earth Film Festival, Eugene, 2020

UnionDocs, New York, 2014

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 2014

Banff Centre, Alberta, 2014

Appalachian State University, 2014

Ohio University, 2014

Headroom Microcinema/University of Iowa, 2014

Furthermore Gallery, Washington, D.C., 2013

Cabaret Voltaire/ETH Zurich, Zurich, 2013

School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2013

Interrobang Film Festival, 2013

Echo Park Film Center, Los Angeles, 2013

Southside Projections, Chicago, 2013

Athens International Film and Video Festival, 2013

University at Buffalo, 2013

35th Big Muddy Film Festival, 2013

Awards

Best Iowa-Produced Film, Interrobang Film Festival

John Michaels Award for social justice filmmaking, Big Muddy Film Festival

Juror’s Special Mention, Big Muddy Film Festival

Credit

Sarah Kanouse, “Around Crab Orchard”, HD video, 69 min, 2013. Contact me for private link to full-length video.

Going Downstate

goingdownstate
Detail, Going Downstate map

Going Downstate” is a counter-map of the Illinois state prison system with photographs (by Lauren Shrensel-Zadikow) and information on tax structure, costs, per capital income, traveling distance and demographics.

File

Download as PDF: Going Downstate

Exhibitions

Chicago, IL – Museum of Contemporary Art, “Mapping the Self”

Chicago, IL – Gallery 400, “An Atlas of Radical Cartography”

Chicago, IL – Hyde Park Art Center, “Pedagogical Factory”

Collections

Chicago, IL – Museum of Contemporary Art, Artist’s Books and Sound

Credit

Kanouse, Sarah and Lauren Shrensel-Zadikow, “Going Downstate,” AREA: Art Research Education Activism, Vol. 4 (2007) page 20.