This video emerged out of a five day journey across Iowa, looking at the homes, churches, and graves of my matrilineal line. It was a journey through landscape by means of car, photography, and video. I learned so much about Iowa's economic history and the collapse of the various cities I visited through pastors, oral histories from older folks and community architects, and incredible historical materials provided by museums, monuments, and pamphlets.
Ultimately, the place to begin with this body of work is to acknowledge, especially as an artist talking adamantly about landscape, that this is stolen land.
I am able to experience, enjoy, and be deeply concerned about the places I call home because the land was violently stolen from Indigenous people. The fact that I grew up in Iowa instead of Denmark, and that my family was able to come here in the 1880s, seeking something better than the life of stone breakers, is a great privilege. That privilege is born out of state sanctioned genocide and egregiously violent acts against Indigenous people, their way of life, and their land.
The conception of landscape is political and religious in nature, steeped in much moralizing and horror and blood. To look at historical landscape photography is to look at a colonialist’s framing. It is arguably the same now, and I contemplate this while I take my own photographs of nature preserves and farmland. Land is not inherently raw. This continent and its gorgeous peaks and valleys are the lands of numerous Indigenous peoples since time immemorial. Landscape preservation and conservation is founded in and a byproduct of colonialist ideology. In the face of the mass collapse of biodiversity because of white supremacist land practices and actions, we need to promote conservation and preservation alongside initiatives to give land back to those who held it long before Europeans arrived.
At the end of the video, I have included the most accurate land acknowledgement statement I was capable of at the time, primarily utilizing Native-Land.ca, and cross-checking with the corresponding nation's official websites.
I deeply and warmly welcome any corrections in this regard, as I know there is always a possibility for inaccuracy.
Please check out the LANDBACK movement and consider donating,
and while you are at it look up whose land you live on at Native-Land.ca
In my original conception to the 100 Days V.ii, I was making work about land history and the immigration / migration of my maternal line. I had intended to start with my Danish great-great grandmother Ane Jacobine Pedersen’s arrival in Council Bluffs, IA, in the late 1880s. I desired to use video as a medium to illustrate the vastly different states of Iowa that we were experiencing. Ecologically, socially, and spiritually, the Iowa of Ane was distinctly different than my Iowa.
However, upon upending my daily life and relocating to Wisconsin, I thought I had to fully abandon this vein of thought and reimagine my project. Council Bluffs seemed too far a distance to travel. Surely, I could move on and do something else.
After weeks of struggling, unable to figure out what the 100 Days V.ii was supposed to be in my new Wisconsin environs, I realized I needed to finish what I had begun with Ane. This sense of unfinished business became clear as the 100 Days V.ii timeline's end fast approached. The unsettled feeling, combined with the blessing of becoming unemployed, sparked the decision to pack up my car and go find Ane. I needed to see her home, her church, and her resting place.
I set out on Day 96/100. For five days in my car, I crossed state and county lines, carving a path across Iowa in my ardent search for parts of my maternal history. The images below document this voyage.
Research is akin to the beginning of a pilgrimage. Any time something feels like I am beginning a steep climb up in information or meaningful work, I know I must follow that path. It is the steady, quiet movement through familial history via dates pulled from decades of Iowan & Danish censuses, marriage certificates, and Danish baptism records. The only reason I grew up in Iowa is because of intergenerational trauma and poverty forcing my grandmother's grandmother to seek something more. I have digitally taken myself to Assentorp, Vestsjalland, Denmark, and back, following a path in public records and maiden names through Jodie, Mary Lou, Camilla, Ane, Frederike, & Serene.
Dette er vigtigt arbejde.
Forward / frem
Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sac & Fox Natureway.
Cedar Rapids is where I lived for my last two years in Iowa. It is also where I began my investigations into land use / abuse and ancestry. It is here I filmed and photographed hundreds of indigenous prairie grasses and flowers. The Sac & Fox Natureway was one of the few spaces in Cedar Rapids that, while sonically disrupted by constant trains, maintained a sense of shared natural beauty that Cedar Rapidians could truly enjoy.
About 20 acres of the Sac & Fox Natureway floodplain was recently destroyed by the city for a rail yard. The Rompot neighborhood's floodplain was rezoned by the City of Cedar Rapids- changing the zoning of the neighborhood from suburban / residential to general industrial. This choice violated the city's prior oath to maintain the floodplain in the wake of the 2008 floods. The choice to devastate the environment further, especially after the horrific, unprecedented damage of the derecho that ripped through Iowa in August 2020, is beyond the pale of acceptable. The derecho was a Category 4 windstorm- or land hurricane- that swept across Iowa, damaging 93% of the homes in Cedar Rapids (where I was living), taking out approximately 7 million trees across the state, and 32,773 acres of Iowa’s urban tree canopy.
This is destruction that I will never see rejuvenated and made whole again in my lifetime.
And the city still decided to go through with removing vast swaths of natural resources in the name of a marginally profitable business agreement.
In these images and my larger video, I am carrying an apple crate. I procured this crate and others from a family apple orchard that, after standing since the late 1890s, was completely flattened within an hour and a half; buckling under winds upwards of 140 miles per hour. For innumerable trees and other wildlife, buildings, businesses, and structures, this storm cleaved us from any illusion of safety, and ought to have sparked more momentum on tackling the imminent and very present climate crisis than it did.
Council Bluffs, Iowa
The place Ane Jacobine Pedersen immigrated to at the age of 20. She and attended the Danish Church (later Our Savior's Lutheran Church) and resided in Council Bluffs for 72 years.
My grandmother's grandmother is responsible for my family being here. I traveled over 415 miles to take a photo of her gravestone. She is buried with her Americanized, married name- Anna Olsen. She was the cornerstone of my Iowan projects for over a year, and the inspiration that created a deep longing for a cross-Iowan journey in landscape, land use / abuse, god, and pilgrimage. From the stories I have been told about Ane from her living granddaughters, she would have absolutely hated me, a fact that does not much phase me but does add a filter to how I process information about her.
This is someone who did all that she could to "make good" for her family. Insodoing, she also exploited her family. There is a story of Ane's traveling ticket, where she would buy a boat ticket for a family member that gave them passage across the Atlantic. They would come and live with Ane, learn English and a trade, and once they had paid off the ticket Ane would send for another member.
The implications of this sound so warm, yet I have heard two interpretations of that story in my family- one is glowing, that this is so generous and Christian and good. Through this act, Ane was keeping the family together and extending opportunity.
The other interpretation is that these family members served as cheap, indentured labor on the family's farm, and that Ane was able to procure this labor through somewhat false pretenses. I have heard of her kicking these family members out once their ticket debt was settled, told to find their own way, and left to scavenge for work with a trade they haphazardly learned with their all too fresh English.
I will never know the truth of this history in my family. Almost everyone who knew Ane and her many siblings, cousins, and their stories intimately have passed away or no longer remember.
When I look at the few photos of Ane that still exist, it is nearly painful how much my grandmother looks like her. When I see photos of my grandmother as a little girl, it is positively wild how much I resemble her.
There is great distance between Ane and I- about 129 years.
There is somehow no distance at all.
I am thrilled to have been granted access to her (and subsequently, my) history.