Working under the moniker Bambitchell since 2009, the research-based practice of artists Sharlene Bamboat and Alexis Kyle Mitchell re-imagines nationalist histories through the clever recycling of official state documents and institutional archives to produce moving image, installation and performance works.
The centerpiece and eponymous work of this exhibition, is a newly commissioned experimental film installation that explores the history and legacy of the “animal trials” that took place in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, and its extended network of colonies. During this period, animals—and other non-humans such as insects and inanimate objects—were made culpable of trespass, theft or vandalism, and prosecuted for these crimes along with more serious accusations such as assault, rape and murder under the same criminal justice system that governed their human counterparts. Commissioned by Mercer Union, and co-produced with the Henry Art Gallery, this new work is installed within a site-specific environment that conjures a medieval amphitheater, featuring materials which represent the artists’ substantial research into this history and its resonance with contemporary conditions and practices of exacting power.
The trials that underpin Bugs and Beasts Before the Law have been documented in the legal histories of Europe and researched extensively by American scholar, E.P. Evans. Taking its title from the first chapter in Evans’ most notable work on the subject, Bambitchell’s film investigates the histories of sodomy laws and perceptions of property, to draw attention to the vacillating target of beings subsumed by the criminal justice system. Structured into five distinct chapters with each focusing on the documented trial of an animal/object/insect, the film re-imagines common perceptions of legal history to produce a world where past and present, fiction and non-fiction, human and animal intermix. Throughout the work, an undercurrent persists to suggest how these histories demonstrate the long legacies of colonial power structures that have lent significantly to ongoing forms of oppression and punishment. In this way, these animal trials showcase how power continues to be performed on and through parallel subjectivities.