Res Nullius

Gallery Huuto, Helsinki
28.9. - 22.10.2023

In 1542, Gustav Vasa writes a letter in which he declares that all uninhabited areas in his kingdom belong to God, the king and the Swedish Crown.

In the spring of 2021, my grandmother dies at the age of 98. Estate-related arrangements become an integral part of our family’s collective grief process. Two years later, the negotiations concerning the division of the estate still continue. For a brief moment, it seems that 6,021 square meters of land, consisting of a partly forested field and wetland dominated by alder trees, may end up in my possession. With the exception of individual items, I have never owned anything.

In July 2023, I am wandering around the plot of land that I have previously only passed through. In the grass, I can see places where deer have rested. Nameless birds are singing on the alder branches. A horsefly bites me on my buttocks. The shore area is thick with small insects and reeds.

Res nullius (“nobody’s property”) plays with the idea of cross-species ownership. Combining photographs with text, the works focus on negotiations and the porosity, complexity and ritual nature of agreement. If the law on property molds the way we are with each other, how does it affect our relationship with other creatures? If I am the owner, do I own every single blade of grass? And then what? Can a meadow own itself?

Nobody owns wild animals. Karen Bradshaw, an American Professor of Law, has proposed that animals should be able to own the land where they live. Bradshaw:

“People and animals have always shared land. Biodiversity loss is a property-based problem. The solution is simply to allow animals to enter into our institution of properties. Ships and corporations have owned property for decades; why not bison?”

The exhibition is kindly supported by the Arts Promotion Centre Finland.