Mirko Nikolic: << earth wants to be free >>

On rights, autonomy & freedom of other-than-humans

Symposiom on May 14 – 15, 2016 at Kemiö island (FI)

In 1972, the lawyer Christopher Stone wrote “I am quite seriously proposing that we give legal rights to forests, oceans, rivers and other so-called ‘natural objects’ in the environment - indeed, to the natural environment as a whole”. At the same time, the Supreme Court of U.S. was discussing the case in which the preservation organisation Sierra Club was trying to block the development of a ski resort in the Mineral King glacial valley in Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Court ruled against the defendants of the Sierras, provoking a dissenting opinion by Justice William ‘Wild Bill’ Douglas:

The ordinary corporation is a ‘person’ for purposes of the adjudicatory processes …. So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. …. The voice of the inanimate object, therefore, should not be stilled.

The case was lost, but the ski resort was eventually never developed, and alternative stories of nonhuman personhood have continued to proliferated. Law, economy, politics, art, most of human practices, still to a large extent do not take into account the voices of nonhuman animals, plants, inorganic bodies, entire multitudes of entities are either backgrounded or silences. This oh-so-modern way of dealing with the world is presently contested across the board. Over the past few years, several countries recognised natural entities as holders of legal rights. In their own way, artistic and theoretical practices are increasingly taking other-than-humans ‘seriously’, listening to, co-performing, and conversing with those that do not speak our tongues.


In a two-day camp at the old copper mines in the island of Kemiönsaari in South-West Finland, the symposium <<earth wants to be free>> on rights, autonomy & freedom of other-than-humans discussed dynamics of shared trans-species conversations, with emphasis on ethico-political questions that present themselves when crossing the imaginary human–nonhuman border. How do we invite nonhumans to take part in conversations initiated by humans? What kinds of rights and freedoms are asserted through these naturalcultural minglings? What are the responsibilities and accountabilities of the humans towards the interpellated nonhuman persons? The participants, invited by Nikolić, shared their approaches through narration, discussions, exercises, workshops, and audio-visual performances. The aim of the camp was to advance understanding about current possibilities and developmental pathways on this ‘wild side’ of arts and humanities.

The camp/symposium was organised as part of Nikolić's residency at HIAP during spring 2016. The Livens of Metals is his ongoing art and research project about the intimate interactions of humans and earth-others that started in spring 2015 at his first HIAP/Frontiers residency. Since then the project has had sequels in the UK as well as in Serbia during Nikolić's Frontiers residency at Cultural Front GRAD.

participants >>

Agata Marzecova, the Alps, Baroa Belaobara, Bartaku, birds of Røst archipelago, blue slugs of Bor, Essi Kausalainen, Felicia Honkasalo + Akuliina Niemi + Sinna Virtanen, fossils of Dorset, Hanna Husberg, Jenni Nurmenniemi, Laura Harrington, Matterlurgy, Miloš Trakilović, mineralisation of Östergårdsgrufvan, mirko nikolić, Moss Flats of the North Pennines, Mustarinda working group, mycorrhizae, rocks of Klovakärr mine, ocean of air, post-fossil fuels, radios & wires, Tuomas A. Laitinen, and many more earth-others who/which withdraw from naming.

With contributions by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Astrida Neimanis and Elin Øyen Vister. And support from Jaana Eskola, Paul Flanders, Salla Lahtinen, Sasha Marich, Višnja Vujović.