Sustainability symposium features art

For the first time, fashion and art were incorporated in the symposium.
Architecture senior Alice Yonke and phD student Joey Reid paint with watercolors on sheets on paper on Friday, April 5, 2013, at the Institute on the Environment in St. Paul. Yonke encouraged students to paint their representation of sustainability.
April 08, 2013

With brushes made of animal hair and paints made from minerals, watercolor is a “natural medium” to architecture senior Alice Yonke.

She shared her natural art Friday at the 2013 Sustainability Symposium on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus, where students from all levels and disciplines came together to share research and creative work on environmental topics.

For the first time, the event featured student art as a way to learn about conservation, said Beth Mercer-Taylor, sustainability education coordinator at the University’s Institute on the Environment, which hosted the event.

Senior Jenna Lewein said she brainstormed a number of research topics to present at the symposium before deciding on the environmental impact of clothing — a subject she said many can relate to.

While people may think about where their food and electricity come from, Lewein said it’s less common to consider the energy used in textile production — a process she said requires large amounts of water and chemicals.

Avoiding synthetic material, like nylon or polyester, is one way to make eco-friendly decisions when buying clothing, she said.

Choosing vintage or secondhand clothing can displace the need to buy new clothes and save energy, Lewein said.

“It’s up-cycling at its best,” she said. “You’re re-purposing an outfit or a piece of clothing and giving it new life.”

Textiles, not text

Projects with a visual element tended to be the most “widely communicated” at the symposium, said Yonke, who laid out watercolor palettes in front of her own paintings to encourage people to make their own art.

“Art … really shows what you personally find valuable, which is why I brought it here,” she said. “I think people need to explore why they really care about the environment.”

Junior Jessica Richardson, whose project on prairie conservation included feathers, butterfly wings, 3-foot tall grass and other prairie samples, said visual elements make it easier to learn.

“If you have something you can look at and feel,” Richardson said, “you’ll make more of a connection to it than if you just have charts.”

Lewein said she tried to avoid packing her presentation with text and instead focused on dishing out facts as observers checked out the vintage clothes she brought in to demonstrate green fashion.

“You can present numbers to people,” she said, “[but] the numbers aren’t probably going to mean much.”

The symposium lets students test out their projects in a “friendly” place before presenting them at other conferences or schools, Mercer-Taylor said.

“Our hope is that students use this as a launching pad,” she said.

In the future, Yonke said, she wants to collaborate with scientists, artists and designers to help them express ideas in different forms.

“Watercolor is just one way that really shows that,” she said.

Lewein said though she doesn’t plan to present her vintage research again, she’ll use it when choosing clothing in the future.

“I’m definitely keeping this in my back pocket,” she said.

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