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.
West Bend, Iowa. The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption.
Iowa's most famous religious pilgrimage point. Begun in 1912 by a German Catholic priest and finished at the turn of the millennium, this structure is an interesting microcosm of white religious vigor, great devotion and beauty, and the abuse of natural resources and theft from Indigenous peoples. Most of the stones came from South Dakota, taken from caves belonging to a handful of Indigenous tribes. Indigenous folks loaded these crystals onto trains that brought the stones eastward to West Bend. The circumstances upon which the Indigenous people labored is purposely left vague by the official history presented at the Grotto, but it is clear that Indigenous people were not compensated for their labor or for these resources that they had to part with.
The caves that these stones came from are no longer actively mined.
I was brought here as a toddler, and felt called to see it again. I spoke at length with one of the men who helped to build the Grotto. He gave me a stone that had fallen off a wall, and told me about his experiences building a sacred space, the way it changed his interior self and faith forever, and how now he is the only one who can actually maintain and take care of the space. He is the sole repair person- knowing where every stone belongs, having had a significant hand in placing some of the millions of stones that was used to decorate the exterior of the Grotto.
Burchinal and Clear Lake, Iowa.
A childhood home of my grandmother, Mary Lou, and the resting place of my great-grandmother, Camilla.
Burchinal is a town that consists of (more or less) one residential street that is in the shape of a U. It is where my great-grandparents lived for a smidge of time when my grandmother (Mary Lou) & great aunt (Jo) were in middle school and high school. Gerald, my great grandfather, had wanted to start his own business as a machinist for several years, and needed the garage space. The business folded after just a few years in the mid '40s, apparently largely due to the fact Gerald was exceptionally sensitive to the fact that everyone was on hard times, and many folks couldn't pay their bills. He could never bring himself to drag those folks to collections.
The family returned to Mason City soon after. About a mile away from this haus is the ultra small rural cemetery Camilla and Gerald have laid in for decades. To get to this cemetery is a winding path of half paved, half gravel roads. It’s where the Skiptons & Petersons (Peterson is the married name of my grandmother’s oldest living sister) rest eternal.
My feelings on Camilla are as mixed as my feelings on Ane. I am thankful my grandmother and her younger sister are not like Camilla. Some family described Camilla as “naturally refined,” but I find that to be a polite way to say deeply Christian and exceptionally hard hearted. The stories I have been told over and over about my grandmother’s paternal grandfather stepping between Camilla and her two youngest daughters, telling Camilla that “she was not allowed to hit these girls” breaks my heart.
Camilla threw my grandmother out of the haus when Mary Lou became pregnant at 17, and gave my aunt Jo hell, not speaking to her for many years, after converting to Catholicism.
I sat with my great Aunt Jo for four hours on this day (Day 99/100), trying to soak up as much time with her as I could and as much story she could remember. My aunt is in her early eighties, on oxygen, facing heart failure and lung cancer that has long metastasized. We talked all about what she could remember, but also about our complex relationships with god & hope for something better. Jo took me to my first mass when I was little, and taught me how to knit in exchange.
I love my Aunt Jo mightily.
I am glad that the hard-hearted Christianity that suppressed the humanity in my great grandmother didn’t pass down into her two youngest daughters.
Mason City, Iowa
My grandparents' home, my mother's home, my childhood home.
It is good that the 100 Days V.ii ends in such a historic city.
These images are from Day 100/100.
River City is where I lived the longest as a child, and the longest I ever lived in any Iowan city.
These are the two homes my grandparents owned. The first is a little haus on 9th St. that my grandfather bought for an extremely low price in the ‘60s. It was unfinished, small, and at the time it was the only home on the block. They raised three children there, & spent almost 30 years in this home.
The second home is the one I’m most familiar with, & where they lived for nearly 30 more years. It’s where I have all my most significant memories of my grandparents, George’s craftsmanship, and his slow decline, Mary Lou’s care-giving & high anxiety, hundreds of cups of watered down coffee, and drinks consisting of half-a-shot of whisky mixed with 7Up being served at 5pm sharp. These memories saturate my experience of that haus. My grandfather, who was an exquisite handyman / carpenter / mechanic redid much of this home. The interior was all shades of blue & beige through the years.
I asked the gentleman who owned the brick home if I could take a photo. He was suspicious & didn’t like the question. I told him about my grandparents and, although annoyed, he relented. The last home, however, I couldn’t bring myself to knock on the door.
I couldn’t even park outside on the street.
The front garden was entirely redone.
The metal blackbird that hung above the front door, removed.
People must make homes their own. It’s how things are. But I want to hold onto that home’s memory, and not have my image of it changed by the modernizations of the new owner.
Time is relentless.
I meditated on mortality, loss, and landscape for the five days and 1000+ miles I spent on Iowan highways & backroads.
I visited dead family, those who are dying, and those who are waiting to see what the next move ought to and could be.
I don’t want to live forever looking backwards. But I find that I am unable to move forward without better understanding what came before me, and why this land and my family look like this.
One last note:
I feel so much regret for the time that I chose to miss out on with dying people.
I am extremely thankful to my cousin, Christine Romans, for the inspiration to investigate my maternal line more fully. Her piece for CNN inspired me to look for more of Ane, and it led me on a winding, beautiful journey. Christine's piece, wherein she presents her findings to her grandmother (my grandmother's older sister) came out in 2014.
It can be viewed here.