Personhood for a Pittsburgh Tree

‘The Sovereign Tree’

Bill O’Driscoll of The Allegheny Front writes on January 13, 2023, CARNEGIE INTERNATIONAL PROJECT SEEKS LEGAL PERSONHOOD FOR A TREE

The black gum — leafless in winter, and about 10 feet tall — is located on the southern edge of Community College of Allegheny County’s main campus, on a little bluff overlooking Route 65 and Acrisure Stadium. It was planted last year as the German collective Terra0’s entry in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s prestigious Carnegie International.
This living artwork is titled “A tree, a corporation, a person,” and its ambition is just that: to see if the artists and museum can gain legal personhood for a plant so it might, among other attainments, own both itself and its modest plot of land.

Bill O’Driscoll | 90.5 WESA

“If a tree had the potential to fight back when a corporation was trying to log it and its forest brethren down, that would be incredible. The implications for the project were so different than any other artwork we were considering at the time. What a museum has to do to care for this work and realize this work, it opens up so many doors and so many questions and opportunities for critical thinking.”

Talia Hyman, a curatorial assistant for the International.

The plan, created with help from the Carnegie and CCAC, is this. The artists have established the Pittsburgh Lobby for Tree Personhood (PLTP). It’s a type of nonprofit corporation called a 501(c)4, an entity that is required to promote social welfare but also permitted to support political causes. Its sole mission is to get this young tree declared a legal person.

Bill O’Driscoll | 90.5 WESA

“The basic idea came from a feeling that maybe our current terminology or frameworks to describe ecosystems or represent ecosystems are not really sufficient to the complexity in which we stand to them.”

Paul Kolling, Terra0 co-founder

“Maybe there’s an on-the-ground kind of power we should grant to a tree to say, both practically and symbolically, it’s going to elevate the idea of environmentalism and ecological balance in a way that Pittsburgh has not experienced before.”

Mike Madison, University of Pittsburgh law professor
More:

Climbing trees as a child

Photos of flowering trees

Tree valuation and appraisal

Terra0 White Paper (PDF)

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