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 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 beyond the limits of liberal individualism.

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.

Photos by Justin Barbin.

For excerpts and a trailer, please see this Vimeo showcase.


Sarah Kanouse, My Electric Genealogy, 80-minute lecture performance, 2022. Sound by Jacob Ross and Beau Kenyon.


Cambridge, MA – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Art, Culture, Technology, November 16, 2023

Philadelphia, MA – Eco-Social Salon Series at The Rotunda, November 11, 2023

Baltimore, MD – University of Maryland, Baltimore County, CADVS, November 10, 2023

Lowell, MA – University of Massachusetts Lowell, November 2, 2023

Carbondale, IL – Southern Illinois University, School of Media Arts, February 15, 2023

Champaign, IL – University of Illinois, School of Art and Design, February 14, 2023

Iowa City, IA – University of Iowa, School of Art and Art History, February 13, 2023

Chicago, IL – Watershed Art and Ecology, February 11, 2023

Evanston, IL – Northwestern University, Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Mussetter-Struble Theater, February 7, 2023

Winona, MN – Art of the Rural, February 4, 2023

Minneapolis, MN – University of Minnesota, InFlux Space, February 2, 2023

St. Paul, MN – Macalester College, Dept. of Media and Cultural Studies, February 1, 2023

Pasadena, CA – Caltech, October 17, 2022

Eugene, OR – University of Oregon, October 13, 2022

Santa Cruz, CA – PLATFORM at Museum of Art and History, October 11, 2022

Claremont, CA – Scripps College, Dept. of American Studies and Pitzer College, Dept. of Art + Art History, October 6, 2022

Fullerton, CA – California State University Fullerton, Dept. of English, October 5, 2022

Irvine, CA – Claire Trevor School of the Arts and Program in Environmental Humanities, University of California, Irvine, October 4, 2022

Los Angeles, CA – 2220 Arts+ Archives, September 29, 2022


Boulder, CO – Mimesis Documentary Festival, August 17-20, 2023

Chestertown, MD – Washington College, “Mapping Meaning,” October 19-December 19, 2021


Kanouse, Sarah. “An Embodied Archive: gestures and documents from My Electric Genealogy.” Mapping Meaning 3 (2019): 77-83.

Kanouse, Sarah. Notes on a Performance-in-Progress. In Christopher Heurer and Rebecca Zorach, eds. Ecologies, Agents, Terrains. Williamstown, MA: Clark Art Institute, 2018, 196-215.