New metaphors for sustainability: the shopping divider at the check-out

This post comes to you from Ashden Directory

Monik Gupta, environmental blogger and researcher has guest blogged for Ashdenizen. Here he suggests a metaphor in our series New metaphors for sustainability: the shopping divider at the check-out.

For me, thinking about sustainability, the object in the picture comes to mind. We come across it so regularly, however there is no word readily available to us to describe it (google suggests it to be termed ‘cashier divider’ by retail experts). Evidently, just like with ‘sustainability’, it is something very well known but much less engaged with.

What’s more important, both the shopping divider and sustainability mark the necessity for confinement of our own consumption and draw attention to others’ needs.

Maybe those two points, shallow engagement despite omnipresence and a focus on limitations of our consumption, are related. We are reluctant to make explicit the distinction between our needs and those of others, even though we are acutely aware of its necessity.

However, this is exactly where the beauty of both the ‘shopping divider’ and ‘sustainability’ could lie: in marking the confines of our needs, they enable us to direct attention to our fellow human beings. We begin to acknowledge that we are ‘in this together’, urgently needing to demonstrate our ‘ability to sUStain’.


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The editors are Robert Butler and Wallace Heim. The associate editor is Kellie Gutman. The editorial adviser is Patricia Morison.

Robert Butler’s most recent publication is The Alchemist Exposed (Oberon 2006). From 1995-2000 he was drama critic of the Independent on Sunday. See

Wallace Heim has written on social practice art and the work of PLATFORM, Basia Irland and Shelley Sacks. Her doctorate in philosophy investigated nature and performance. Her previous career was as a set designer for theatre and television/film.

Kellie Gutman worked with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture for twenty years, producing video programmes and slide presentations for both the Aga Khan Foundation and the Award for Architecture.

Patricia Morison is an executive officer of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, a group of grant-making trusts of which the Ashden Trust is one.

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On The Subject Of Freedom

“On The Subject of Freedom” performed at the Arts In The One World Conference, 2011. Directed by Mersiha Mesihovic, Created with and performed by following: Lindsey Lollie, Amanda McNussen, James DiBrandon Lewis, Andy Robert, Etienne Rivera, Max Mendoza, Javier Gonzalez, Miriam Connor, Jahcobie Cosom and Matt Schumacher.

Growing up under a communist regime in the Former Yugoslavia, CalArts student Mierisha Mesihovic never really felt free. Her life became even more restricted when civil war broke out in her country.  Although her childhood may seem unimaginable to many of her fellow students at CalArts,  she thinks the gap between them is not all the wide.

Multimedia artist Mierisha Mesihovic

“Many of us struggle with being truly free.  We are afraid to express ourselves, to put ourselves in certain situations,” she says, explaining people often feel at war with themselves. “The conscious self confines us to what we should be and our subconscious self tells us to act on who we really are.”

Mierisha started out as a dancer at CalArts but switched her major to multimedia art in work with a broader palette. “As an artist interested in social justice, I felt I needed more tools than dance to express myself.”

A shared sense of community has helped her find her voice, take risks and break through boundaries.

“On the Subject of Freedom,” performed at Arts In The One World 2011 was a collaborations between Mierisha and fellow students. An exploration of the restraints on freedom, the piece combines dance, live music and projected images. It begins in a conflict zone with a duet about the oppressive atmosphere of war.  The dancers gradually learn to carry on their lives with dignity in spite of the fear and hate surrounding them.  They begin to confide in each other, questioning whether the war is just. The piece ends with liberation, resolution and peace.

Dancer and choreographer Lindsey Lollie

CalArts dancer Lindsey Lollie was one of the collaborators on the dance; she and Mierisha have been friends for three years. Lindsey says the piece is about some of the restrictions people face based on their nationality, gender, race, religion or personality.

“Not everyone is free to walk outside if they are in a war zone,” she writes in an explanatory note to the piece.  “Not everyone is free to speak up and address real issues. “We need to believe in something that is not forced upon us but discovered within our soul.  Everyone deserves to live in the comfort of their own thoughts…”

Mersiha seems clear about the direction she wants to take her art: “My wish is to make the audience part of my work.  I would like to inspire people to act. A sense of community can help us jump over boundaries.  We are many and we are stronger that the fear. The positive always prevails over the negative.”

This post is part of a series documenting Sam Breen’a Spartan Restoration Project. Please see his first post here and check out the archive here. The CSPA is helping Sam by serving in an advisory role, offering modest support and featuring Sam’s Progress by syndicating his feed from as part of our CSPA Supports Program.