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Natural Awakenings SW PA, Greater Pittsburgh

Tree Attempts to Achieve Legal Personhood

Top view of a tree with green leaves

robu_s/AdobeStock.com

A legally autonomous black gum tree named Terra0 at the 58th Carnegie International art exhibition on the campus of the Community College of Allegheny County, in Pittsburgh, owns itself and perhaps even the few square feet of land it grows on. As the tree grows, care will be provided by the Carnegie Museum of Art in an attempt to rewrite the rules of conservation on behalf of the entire nonhuman natural world.

Paul Seidler, one of the three artists behind Terra0, says, “We’re interested in how personhood is constructed in legal terms, but also in economic terms. Corporations can gain the status of personhood. We asked why is there nothing like this for ecosystems or natural systems.”

They began working with Sohrab Mohebbi, curator of the exhibition, in 2018 to figure out how to realize the project, who says, “The tree has its own legal counsel, the museum has its legal counsel, our partner who’s giving us the land has legal counsel. It’s kind of amazing.”

The tree was planted in July and Terra0 hopes that as the tree lives on, its legal autonomy will become a touchstone for other nonhuman species to gain their own form of personhood and legal protection.