Having a poke around the web for inspiration recently, we came upon Jennifer Angus' installation 'The Midnight Garden' for the recently renovated Renwick Gallery in Washington DC's 'Wonder' exhibition. Our collective reaction went something like.... 1. Oooh nice patchy patterned pink wall finish 2. Look at those amazing green insects, they look great on the pink
3. Hang on, they're real. And there's loads. And they're all dead... 4. Oh that's so sad, and unnecessary
Looking at the comments on articles about the installation, it doesn't seem like team Teatime are the only people to have reached this conclusion. Personal feelings about the (*AHEM-deeply-misguided*) exhibit aside, this is a great example of how institutions, brands and event organisers need to think very carefully about the tone and nature of the content they put out into the world. Ms Angus and the Renwick Gallery may have felt that they were able to adequately justify this piece, but the problem is that the explanation reads like a moral soft shoe shuffle... 'ecologically sustainable' collection of the insects (they're not endangered, yet)... they get re-used (but were still killed for the purpose)... the artist hopes to 'get people excited... motivated to get involved with one of the rainforest preservation projects out there' (if only Alanis Morissette hadn't made us so unsure about labelling things ironic). It doesn't matter how much explaining you do, how many caveats are in the press release, the world only reads the headline. And the fact is that if the headline makes you look bad, it's probably because the event is questionable. No ifs or buts or 'ecologically sustainable sourcing'. And that's a terrible thing to realise publicly, with your name on it. See also: the Owl cafe, which sounded really cute until it became clear that it's wasn't going to be any fun for the owls hanging out with lots of drunk, excited people in a small space. Cue heavy backpedalling. If in doubt, think "What would the Daily Mail write about this?" and if the answer is anything other than a 'quirky new trend' piece, it's time to change tack. A small change is often enough for a complete change of tone - for example Hubert Duprat also works with insects, but his gorgeous work is collaborative rather than exploitative (and much more interesting for it).
And what about when you're not in charge of the content? In the world of events, you often get landed with executing someone else's ideas. And in some cases the resulting event is difficult to defend (usually because it's expensive and wasteful - clients won't usually go near politically or morally questionable content), beyond the fact that it's your job to deliver it and the client is paying. But that's not to say that you can't mitigate the expense and waste a little. Among the most enjoyable tasks involved in our projects are the peripheral kindnesses they allow us to perform on our own time: giving flowers to care homes, extra ingredients to food banks, building materials to recycling projects, props to schools. So why not join us in quietly countering some of the bad we all help to create (including Ms Angus' efforts to make us love the insects of the rainforest by killing loads of them and sticking them to the wall) with a little good, whether it's taking the time to make sure you're recycling as much as you possibly can or choosing to buy your office supplies from a company that treats its employees with the respect they deserve. Try not to kill any insects while you're doing it, we need them to keep things ticking over. Even if you have a really cool idea you'd like to try out.