Ethics in Design: when is it okay to ‘go there’?

pyramid time capsule

For some reason lately, I’ve become more concerned about stuff I’ve been seeing in the places and spaces I like to go for inspiration, joy, revival, and solace.  Many of these show up in the form of shops on Etsy, or in other blogs, in stores and indeed all media. 

Lately I’ve noticed an uptick in the use of natural items in some of my favorite designers’ work.  This intrigues me, because I really do find myself attracted to the look of nature within art;  whether encapsulated in a glass paperweight, stored forever in resin, or stuck ‘part time’ into a rock or shell. Here is a nice example: tillandsia urchins three

So, you say, “what’s your problem?” Welllll, this example is great, because air plants (tillandsia) don’t have a problem living in a cramped environment. None at all. And the designer left these free to be removed so they can be properly bathed in water once a week, which is what they need. The sea urchin might have died and fed a hungry Japanese family; or so I have to hope. This could have all ended well. But there are some much less clear cut examples, where my ethics antlers start to quiver.
Like this one; the butterfly wings used for this project are from an unknown source.

butterfly wing in tube

When we buy butterfly or other insect parts from suppliers online, we are often told they were ‘collected naturally’ from the forest floor. Friends and neighbors, I spent a year volunteering at a butterfly house in Dallas.  Butterflies died everyday there (that’s about their lifespan actually; one day…let’s give them some respect) and yes, I’ll admit to sneaking around behind the bushes and picking up a number of gorgeous wings.  But by the time they died, they had lost much of the luster and brightness we associate with them.  They were literally faded, just like humans.  The truth is, when we buy living creatures on the net, we run the risk of being duped (best case scenario) or even downright defrauded (worst case), in which the animals were removed from native habitats, poached, slaughtered, and are now adorning our jewelry or clothes, leaving a gap in the forest that another species will be hardpressed to fill.  Yes, sometimes they are ‘farmed’ for these purposes, and as such put some much needed cash in the pockets of the small time farmers in south America, Africa, Polynesia, India, etc.  But I wonder if the carnage is worth it?  And when we complicate the equasion with bird feathers taken from Parrots?!  Yes, that makes me downright pissed off.  Almost all parrots are known to be endangered in most countries.  Plus, on top of being nature’s best advertisement for beauty and a rival to any Pantone color swatch combo, are some of the most intelligent, fast, noble, loyal, and longest lived species of birds on the planet.  Can’t we offer them more respect and be content to enjoy them in the wild, or even in zoos? 

If you go back to the top picture for a second, I’ll tell you a short story.  This gizmo I made by soldering triangular glass bezels together holds what I called a time capsule of our lives (Steve and I) when we were living on Daytonia in Little Forest Hills. When we first moved in, we dug around alot in the soil, planting roses, lilies (what, you say.. in Dallas?!  Fools!), hyacinth bean vine, trumpet vine, and any number of things that mostly died soon thereafter.  But we dislodged some fun stuff too, like a chunk of old bottle glass from Dr. Pepper, circa 60’s, when the logo looked like this.  And a wasp nest.  And a tiny brown speckled egg casing (assuming the baby bird got out alive!), among other stuff… but my favorite piece in here is the feather from a roseate spoonbill.  It represents one of my favorite jobs over the years;  those beautiful orangey pinky red and white birds were housed just over the creek from my office.  One day at lunch over in Bird Valley (as it was called) I spotted a flash of pink outside the cage caught in a bush and picked it up.  That little dude is now forever captured in my time capsule.  I would like to think all feathers were collected that way; passively, purposefully, and lovingly. But as this next photo attests:  such is obviously not the case.  What do we say?  How should we react?  Crafters must stick together and support each other.  But should Etsy and other merchant/suppliers have a policy in place to help protect species, even if they are not considered strictly illegal to buy and sell?   Just maybe un-ethical….

butterfly and beetle wings

 

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