Northwestern Events Calendar


My Electric Genealogy - Sarah Kanouse

Still photo of performance of My Electric Genealogy by artist Sarah Kanouse.

When: Tuesday, February 7, 2023
6:00 PM - 7:15 PM Central

Where: Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, Mussetter-Struble Theater, 1949 Campus Drive; 10-30 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: Free! Public Welcome

Contact: Jill Mannor   (847) 467-3970

Group: Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities

Co-Sponsor: Department of Art History

Category: Fine Arts


Part storytelling, part lecture, and part live documentary film, Sarah Kanouse’s solo performance My Electric Genealogy explores the shifting cultures and politics of energy in Los Angeles through the lens of her own family.

Sarah Kanouse is the Winter 2023 Artist in Residence of the Kaplan Humanities Institute and Department of Art History.


"For nearly forty years my grandfather designed, planned, and supervised the spider-vein network of lines connecting Los Angeles to its distant sources of electric power. From the 1930s to the 1970s, he made a second family of the grid and its substations, converter stations, 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 boxes of snapshots that mixed birthday parties and family Christmases with portraits of power plants and transmission towers. Years later, I learned my grandfather’s legacy also included some of the most polluting fossil fuel infrastructure in the country—much of it located out of state, on Indigenous land. As these power plants finally and belatedly come down, what do we owe to the communities long harmed by this infrastructure?

My Electric Genealogy is an 80-minute solo performance combining live narration with 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 infrastructures include not just power plants and transmission lines, but also 'infrastructures of feeling:' closely held beliefs about nature, gender, race, and progress. Bookended by the 99 years that separate my grandfather’s birth and my daughter’s, My Electric Genealogy is set in Los Angeles, a city so emblematic of the values, aesthetics, and conditions of late modernity that geographer Ed Soja called it the 'capital of the late twentieth century.' The performance inhabits and re-imagines key moments in the city’s—and my family’s—history, from a 1936 ceremony welcoming the Hoover Dam’s first electricity, to a nuclear-powered future envisioned in 1968, to the 1992 LA Uprising, to the 2016 decision to go coal-free. Global warming emerges as a product of extractive capitalism, racial domination, and settler colonialism: a phenomenon for which reparations may be more appropriate than mere divestment. Reframing the power grid as a dynamic entity that connects diverse and unequally vulnerable communities, the performance asks how an ethics of care and obligation might animate responses to the ecological crises that 'we'— some much more than others —have already created, as well as those still to come. My Electric Genealogy is an essayistic working-through of energy as a personal and collective inheritance." - Sarah Kanouse

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