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Bugs & Beasts Before the Law, Appendix A-L

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Henry Art Gallery
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Bugs & Beasts Before the Law, Appendix A-L is an accompanying publication to the experimental essay film Bugs and Beasts Before the Law (2019) by Bambitchell, the artist collaboration of Sharlene Bamboat and Alexis Kyle Mitchell.

The film explores the history and legacy of the animal trials that took place across medieval and early modern Europe and its colonies in the Americas. Commissioned by Mercer Union and co-produced with the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, the film follows events from the fourteenth to the early twentieth century in which nonhuman animals were put on trial in secular and ecclesiastical courts, where they were prosecuted for various crimes ranging from trespassing to murder, as well as the related legal practice of deodand, punishing objects faulted for human fatalities. Bambitchell’s narrative animates how power is performed through the body of the other, revealing the ways authorities and institutions mediate social relations and subjecthood through such processes as the formation of property and the criminalization of sexual difference.

The publication takes readers on a journey through the artists’ research that informed the film. It playfully riffs on the appendix from the 1906 book that first inspired Bambitchell’s project, E. P. Evans’s The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, the first chapter of which, titled “Bugs and Beasts Before the Law,” is the foundational English-language text on the medieval animal trials. Using collage and intertextual layering throughout the book (as well as in their film), the artists create a counter-archive that tugs at the conclusiveness of Evans’s narrative, opening the past to reinterpretation and exploring accretions across time and space.

The publication includes a variety of the artists’ research materials, from Evans’s published list of animal trials to an excerpt from Greta LaFleur’s book The Natural History of Sexuality in Early America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018) and ecclesiastical images of animals, real and imagined. Additional content includes a transcript of Bambitchell’s film and the artists’ photocopy transfer images composed from associative research materials. The publication includes essays by legal scholar Sarah Keenan, “Objects with Personality,” and writer Marianne Shaneen, “From Wanton Weevils to Amoral Algorithms,” and an introduction by Henry Art Gallery Curator Nina Bozicnik. It is published on the occasion of the artists’ solo exhibition at the Henry in 2021.

  1. Bugs and Beasts Before the Law