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Lexicon of Sustainability Pop-up Art Show on the MV Explorer

Students in the Sustainability Communities class with just one of the 20 "informational artworks" from the Lexicon of Sustainability project.
Students in the Sustainability Communities class display just one of the 20 “informational artworks” from the Lexicon of Sustainability project.

In what might be the MV Explorer‘s first “flash-mob pop-up art show,” more than 60 students in Rocky Rohwedder’s “Sustainable Communities” Global Comparative Lens class marched from the Union past the library down to Tymitz Square and along the Deck 5 hallway to the Main Dining Hall to hang up posters from the Lexicon of Sustainability digital art project in an effort to spur dialog on the ship about sustainable practices when it comes to food and farming.

A poster defining sustainability hangs in Tymitz Square.

The “information artwork” posters — printed on 100% post-consumer waste paper — are created with photo mosaics and handwritten words to help viewers better understand the food-centric language that surrounds the sustainability movement (future projects will address climate, energy and water). The posters tell the stories of chefs, farmers, activists, ranchers and fishermen, who take part in the project to help educate the public about what words like “cage free,” “pasture raised,” “locavore” and “biodiversity” truly mean.

Food manufacturing companies have “hijacked” some of these terms for their own marketing purposes, according to Lexicon of Sustainability founder Douglas Gayeton, who is also the author of Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America. “We need to take back the power of those words,” Douglas says, in order to have meaningful conversation about changing the present-day food system in America. After all, he notes, “Words can change the world.”

Rocky Rohwedder, a professor of environmental studies and planning at Sonoma State University, has acted as an adviser and advocate of the Lexicon of Sustainability project, bringing 20 pieces of this “informational artwork” to the MV Explorer to support what he says is a worthy endeavor: “The Lexicon of Sustainability is a creative and approachable project that communicates the practice of sustainability with a human touch. For me, mashing up the Lexicon with Semester at Sea was a natural fit. These are both powerful and innovative educational enterprises that seek to raise our awareness of the complex challenges facing the world today.”

Students check out the Lexicon of Sustainability posters that define Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and Veggie Libel Law.
Students check out the Lexicon of Sustainability posters that discuss community supported agriculture (CSA) and veggie libel law with tiled photos and handwritten words.

In fact, anyone can apply to become a curator of a pop-up show. If you are selected as a “curator,” you receive a supply of the posters and agree to hold five pop-up “art galleries” in your own community. The pieces of artwork then live somewhere permanently — such as a library — in your town or at your university. Another way to get involved: Host a “paint your own information artworks” street art party, where you and some friends, neighbors or students color some black and white posters and then hang them on buildings with flour-and-water paste.

After hanging the posters on the ship, Rocky’s class returned to the Union to watch some “Know Your Food” films that complement the Lexicon of Sustainability informational artwork. The short films, aired on PBS, mix hand-written text and photo collage with live interviews with food producers across the country. The first film Douglas and his wife Laura Howard Gayeton produced, “The Story of an Egg,” won a PBS Viewers Choice Award. Other topics are titled “Unconventional Agriculture,” “Local vs. Organic,” “Grass Fed,” and “Wheat or White” — all meant to help viewers demystify some of the definitions of these key sustainable food production concepts.

Says Professor Rocky Rohwedder, “The motto goes like this, ‘You can’t change the world unless you know what the words mean’.”

Photos by Alexa O’Connell.

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