“Why should human rights be considered the ideal form of rights? Are we equipped (or entitled) to represent non humans or to make decisions on their behalf? (…) How might we communicate with non humans, and how do we define them and the limits of our (inter) relationships?”
Middle Table, a thesis project by Corey Chao, Elena Habre and Melika Alipour Leili in the Transdisciplinary Design program (year above mine), explores multiple perspectives on the issues above through a beautifully crafted “speculative design practice inspired by a growing recognition of person hood rights for rivers around the world.”
I was fortunate enough to play a minor role in the project by performing a character who identifies as “more than human and more than river” and has formed a collective based on this identity, claiming the right to legally represent the river on these grounds. The character reminds me much of current developments within deep ecology, interestingly enough with roots in Scandinavia, stating the need for us as humans to shift our consciousness towards Oneness with nature for any kind of real shift in ecological matters to occur.
Read more about the project below (excerpt from Corey Chao´s website) and see the additional two videos produced for it:
“Middle Table is a design practice inspired by growing recognition of personhood rights for rivers around the world. Middle Table uses design provocations, role-play and immersive workshops to explore the impact of anthropocentrism on our policy, our health and the fate of the planet—and find paths forward.
In 2016, the Maori people won a landmark settlement in New Zealand parliament, ending a legal battle that had persisted for over 140 years. The legislation proclaims, as the Maori have insisted: “Te Awa Tupa is a legal person and has all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person.” Te Awa Tupa is the Maori name for their kin, the Whanganui River.
For us, this moment of friction, perhaps specifically the recognition of nonhuman rights, is the first step toward a paradigm-shift in how we live with this planet. Yet with it comes a series of ethical and practical questions: Why should human rights be considered the ideal form of rights? Are we equipped (or entitled) to represent nonhumans or to make decisions on their behalf?
The River Speaks is a set of lesson plans that challenges traditional notions of the nonhuman.
The lessons prompt students to speculate on possible new definitions, institutions, perceptions relationships, rituals and technologies that might be needed in a reality that recognizes nonhuman agency; reflect on the cultural shifts that might happen (both good and bad); then back cast onto our contemporary condition.
The following videos are part of a lesson set after the River Restitution Act has been approved by congress, laying the groundwork for the river to receive reparations for the harm inflicted upon it by humans. This mandate raises an array of pressing questions—primarily, how might we communicate with nonhumans, and how do we define them and the limits of our (inter) relationships?. These must be reconciled by a triad of new human(ish) stakeholders whom the students embody. These lessons were tested and refined at The Dalton School, where high school history students embodied characters from the factions we designed, then filmed their own responses to how River Reparations should be paid.”
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