Spring 2021, with open but aching arms

Three figures in PPE masks are arrayed in the foreground of a landfill hill with protruding monitoring pipes. One figure gestures and seems to be speaking. Industrial infrastructure can be viewed beyond the hill.
Sarah Kanouse and Nicholas Brown led a tour of Deer Island for Caroline Jones’s MIT Architecture course Landscape Experience, April 17, 2021.

The fourteen months since the first COVID-19 lockdowns have made clear over and over again just how entangled environmental damage, capitalism, and white supremacy actually are – as well as how unevenly their burdens are experienced. Even as I receive my second vaccine shot this week, I look with grief and outrage at the attacks on civilians in Palestine and the conditions facing the people of India, Brazil, Uruguay and other countries whose ability to fight the virus is constrained by the vaccine nationalism of wealthy countries. So it’s with open but aching arms that I embrace the promise of spring in my hemisphere and with it the release of new writing and creative work.

On Saturday, May 15, the geolocated public audio walk Sound on Mystic launches and with it my latest collaboration with Elizabeth Solomon. Native Space: Headwaters and Homelands is a five and a half minute piece for the area of the cistern that drains water from lower Mystic Lake into a now-defunct water distribution system. Elizabeth takes us back to an earlier view of Mystic Lake, before its engineering and development, to the time of a powerful female leader of the Massachusett people known today only as the Saunkswa of Missitekw. The piece is built from an interview with Elizabeth and field recordings collected inside the cistern and along the Mystic River.

I’m thrilled to announce that the short film (and earlier collaboration with Elizabeth Solomon and Nicholas Brown) Ecologies of Acknowledgment will screen in the 2021 Roxbury International Film Festival in a program entitled “Homage to our Lands.” Despite recent progress with vaccinations – especially in Boston, the film festival is online for the again this year. The program will be available for streaming for 48 hours, from  10am on Juneteenth (the 19th) to 10am on June 21st. Since I made the film viewable online for free on Indigenous People’s Day 2019, it has been circulating in unpredictable ways that sometimes surface via Instagram or Twitter and a number of gratifying unsolicited emails. It is still viewable in person at the Tufts University Art Gallery through the end of the spring semester.

This winter and spring has seen the publication of two new academic essays co-authored with Nicholas Brown. Our just-published “Perspectives and Controversies” essay for The Anthropocene Review entitled “An Anti-Racist and Anti-Colonial Anthropocene for Compromised Times.” Written during the racial justice uprising of last summer, we argue that the post-definitional project of the Anthropocene must be humbly anti-racist and anti-colonial and committed to transformative action. Over the winter, our essay “Common Tensions” was published in a special issue of the Swedish art journal Passepartout on “New Infrastructures – Performative Infrastructures in the Performance Field.”

I’m also honored to have an essay in the new Routledge Companion to Contemporary Art, Visual Culture, and Climate Change, edited by T.J. Demos, Emily Eliza Scott, and Subhankar Banerjee. “Staying with the Troubling, Performing in the Impasse” takes a skeptical look at white/settler climate grief and looks towards AIDS activists ability to politicize grief to consider how such an affect might be mobilized toward justice in both art and organizing. It is an incredible privilege to have my written work appear alongside that of many of my all-time intellectual, artistic and political heroes, and a huge thank you to the editors to shepherding the many year process through to completion.

The Netherlands-based arts research organization Sonic Acts has launched the new magazine Ecoes about art in the age of pollution. A few months ago, I sat down (virtually) with Kyveli Mavrokordopoulou for a conversation about the National Toxic Land/Labor Conservation Service and other projects about the nuclear legacies of the Cold War. An edited version of the interview appears in the magazine’s inaugural issue, just out this month.

I recently also had the privilege of screening and speaking with Emily Eliza Scott about my 2012 film Around Crab Orchard in the University of Oregon’s Emerald Earth Film Festival, speaking with Jules Rochielle’s Tufts University class Public as Form, and leading a socially distanced tour of the grounds outside the perimeter of the MWRA Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant with Nicholas Brown for Caroline Jones’s MIT Architecture course, Landscape Experience (see picture above). The tour was a welcome return to a place we’ve spent a lot of time at and thinking about over the years, from helping with the Deer Island Memorial Paddle to researching and filming Ecologies of Acknowledgment, and the tour gave us an excuse to put together a one-page zine of questions to guide our visit which you can download here. For printing and folding directions, you can see this tutorial.

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.

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

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.