This website brings together the many lines of inquiry that inform our film Bugs and Beasts Before the Law (2019).
Organized into five, themed chapters that tell the story of five different interactions between non-humans and the law, Bugs and Beasts Before the Law centres on the legal trials of animals and non-human others that took place across Europe and its extended colonies from approximately the 9th century. While plain in its absurdity, the aims of this historical phenomenon continue to be expressed in contemporary practices across the globe: in the legal systems that sort, categorize, and section societies; in the relationships we hold with human and non-human others; in the ways our cities are built; and how we have come to conceive of ownership and property. For our research, the records of these trials offer a starting point for tracing the grand relational knot from which humans throughout history have sought to disentangle. By interrogating a multitude of obscure and often violent historical narratives, Bugs and Beasts Before the Law uncovers the stories, the perceptions, and the taxonomies that shape our worlds. Our artist book, Bugs and Beasts Before the Law: Appendix A-L continues this work, drawing connections between systems to expose punitive ideology and the myriad targets affected by its gaze throughout history.
This website presents the third and final (yet distinctly open-ended) form of inquiry and storytelling. With new and adapted works by artists, scholars, poets, thinkers, and performers, Before Law brings together practitioners invested in questioning the systems and narratives surrounding interspecies relations. The contributors to this site have each influenced the development of our own research in some form over the years. Their inspired works have deepened our thinking and collectively, their varied approaches are exemplary of how we might all attend differently. Before Law both culminates our research on the Medieval trials of animals and objects, and continues as a living archive—an organizational model of research and creation that unendingly probes the intersecting histories of non-human others and the law.
The site’s organizational model acts as an intervention into conventional systems of classification. By offering the reader the means to craft their own trajectories, encounter works in varied order, and discover the elasticity between ideas, we highlight the limits of Enlightenment-led forms of inquiry. Before Law extends this ethos of disruption and multiplicity when attending to the functions, limits, and aesthetics of accessibility. Widely differing in form, method, and delivery, each work on this site is realized for multiple modes of experience; understanding that our relationships, and the worlds within which we exist, are principally determined by what we can access. And finally, the site includes Voice of Before Law, a synthetic speech model trained using deep learning AI to imitate the voice actor whose narration is central to the film Bugs and Beasts Before the Law. Set squarely between the human and non-human, Voice is an audio guide and emblem of multiplicity that brings to the project greater points of entry and narrative possibility.
—Sharlene Bamboat & Alexis Kyle Mitchell, 2022.