Common Tensions



commons, settler colonialism, social practice art, decolonization, Wisconsin


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. 


Sarah Kanouse, Department of Art + Design, Northeastern University

Sarah Kanouse is an interdisciplinary artist and critical writer examining the political ecology of landscape and space. Migrating between video, photography, and performative forms, her research-based creative projects shift the visual dimension of the landscape to allow hidden stories of environmental and social transformation to emerge. Her solo and collaborative creative work—most notably with Compass and the National Toxic Land/Labor Conservation Service—has been presented through the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Documenta 13, the Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, Krannert Art Museum, Cooper Union, Smart Museum, and numerous academic and artist-run venues. Her writings on landscape, ecology and contemporary art have appeared in Acme, Leonardo, Parallax, and Art Journal and numerous edited volumes. A former fellow at the Rachel Carson Center at Ludwig Maximilians Universität, she is Associate Professor of Media Arts in the Department of Art + Design at Northeastern University. 

Nicholas Brown, School of Architecture, Northeastern University

Nicholas A. Brown is a scholar and artist based in Boston, Massachusetts and La Farge, Wisconsin. His work examines the production of cultural landscapes and the politics of connectivity in settler colonial contexts. Brown teaches in the School of Architecture and Department of History at Northeastern University.


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