June 19, 2019
Ricky Major

Blued Trees and Picket Fencing – Protecting Land Through Copyrighting

The misuse of land by fossil fuel companies is an increasingly alarming problem all over the world. Fossil fuel companies lay pipelines that destroy fragile habitats and create toxic environmental hazards from leaks and breaches. But many activists and artists have risen up against the construction of more pipelines. There have been many marches and protests against these developments, such as the Dakota Access protest. Although these interventions are sometimes effective in delaying or cancelling construction, other artists and activists are taking different approaches.

White Picket Fencing

Landowner and artist Peter von Teisenhausen has been successful in keeping proposed pipeline construction away from his land through artistic interventions with a few legal loopholes.

Peter’s white picket fence. Photo via Stephen Keefe

Peter lives on a ranch in Alberta, Canada that happened to fall right in the path of a proposed pipeline development in 1996. After companies kept sending him offers to obtain consent for construction on his land, he thought of a clever way to discourage them. Peter built a white picket fence on his property and claimed it as an art installation to obtain copyright of his land. With this, companies could no longer “threaten him with arbitration”, forcing them to pursue expensive redevelopment around his property. Peter also charged companies $500 per hour if they desired to meet with him. If they’re making money from the pipelines, why not charge them to meet with him? 

Blued Trees Symphony

“Three Sisters,” detail from completed “Blued Trees” overture, Peekskill, NY (photo by Aviva Rahmani, 2015)

Ecological artist and activist Aviva Rahmandi’s project Blued Tree Symphony opposes the projected development of the Algonquin pipeline on a piece of lush public land in Peekskill, New York. In order to gain copyright on the land, she and a group of New York activists needed to install some piece of art to begin the process. This inspired the idea to go out and create a musical score by painting the trees along the path of the proposed pipeline. Each painted tree represents a note and the entirety of the score interrupts the path of heavy machinery.

I recently reached out to Rahmandi about the project. We discussed inspiration, the status of the project now, and some projections for the future.

Ricky: How was Blued Trees Symphony created/how was the idea formed? Did you draw inspiration from other projects to form Blued Trees?

Rahmandi: The initial inspiration was the work of Peter von Teisenhausen, who copyrighted his entire ranch to save it but that was never tested in the courts) The form of the project took place in my mind when I studied the maps of the Constitution pipeline which would have crossed Northern NY State, and imagined the corridors as musical lines.

Ricky: Was the Blued Trees Symphony project successful at halting the placement of the AIM pipelines in New York? How did the company react to this project?

Rahmandi: The pipelines corp which initiated the one alongside the Indian Creek nuclear facility sent me a dark money (Judith Mayer’s book on topic) letter in response to our cease & desist notice and then went ahead with destruction before I could raise enough money for an injunction. Elsewhere, it is my understanding that we contributed to slowing them down. But under this administration, all best are off until and if we can vote them out of office. Spectra took over the Peekskill pipeline and that is the same company that destroyed Standing Rock and in which T. [Trump] is heavily invested.

Rahmandi’s approach wasn’t entirely effective at the halting of the Algonquin pipeline. However, I still see this approach to copyrighting land as effective. As Rahmani stated, others who participated in the Blued Trees project in varying locations were at the least successful in slowing the companies down. With this, there is much more room to grow and learn from previous mistakes, which fossil fuel companies don’t seem to do. 

One aspect of these projects I worry about is the aggression perpetuated by fossil fuel industries. When motivated so deeply by money, companies will do whatever possible to make the most by spending the least amount possible. Destruction of land and the overall environment always seems to follow. If projects such as Peter’s or Rahmandi’s keep occurring, I worry that industries will find keep finding ways around the copyright ownership to suit their needs.

Large fossil fuels corporations seem to only be growing and growing with power. Although renewable energy could be beneficial for all people and the environment, fossil fuel companies and those who benefit from non-renewable energy continue to pour investments into environmentally destructive techniques. The increase of renewable energy corporations would open up more job opportunities to the public, far more than those offered by fossil fuel industries. Not only will people benefit from the switch to renewable energy, but so will the general environment. But if we want to see an increase in ecosystem and species health, the switch will need to happen sooner than later!