The Bugs & Beasts Before the Law Colloquium imagined and explored possibilities for survival and liberation for those whose protections are limited or whose personhood is compromised, oppressed, or threatened within sociolegal systems. Leveraging the power of art to reframe what is familiar by engaging multiple disciplinary perspectives, University of Washington faculty and graduate student discussants, as well as invited guest scholars and artists, interrogated how the question of which bodies have equal protections and rights under the law continues to be contested, but has the possibility to be reimagined through the creative tools shared by scholarly, artistic, and pedagogic praxis.

This colloquium took inspiration from an experimental essay film titled Bugs & Beasts Before the Law by Bambitchell, the artistic collaboration of Sharlene Bamboat and Alexis Kyle Mitchell. The film (co-produced by Mercer Union and Henry Art Gallery) explores the history and legacy of the animal trials that took place across medieval and early modern Europe, and its extended network of colonies, in which nonhuman animals and inanimate objects were put on trial for various crimes and offenses, ranging from trespassing and thievery to assault and murder. Bambitchell’s film animates how power is performed through the body, revealing the ways authorities and institutions mediate social relations and subjecthood through such processes as the formation of property and the criminality of sexual difference—themes that remain all too relevant today.

Explore each thematic through the perspectives of scholars and artists.

Question 1

Is Justice a Process or an Outcome?

Question 2

What Documents Constrain, Narrate, or Liberate Subjecthood?

Question 3

What is the Human, Anyway?