On the Map: The Lexicon of Sustainability

Family at a Lexicon of Sustainability pop-up art show; Douglas Gayeton, KQED blog
By Rachel Rudi, Digital Contributor

In this week’s update from our Rural Arts and Culture Map, The Art of the Rural is pleased to share two videos posted by Alejo Kraus-Polk, a researcher with The Lexicon of Sustainability: “This is the Story of An Egg” discusses with California farmers the uncomfortable truth behind marketing catchphrases like “cage-free” and “free-range,” and the promise of “pasture-raised” eggs; “Foraging” chronicles society’s straying from eating with the seasons and leaning heavily on conventional agriculture, then follows present-day foragers into North American forests and waters. Both videos focus on the original definitions and gradual manipulations of agricultural and culinary words and terms, the subtle power of language and the empowerment that comes from dissecting it.

We have written about The Lexicon of Sustainability before, as we’re continually struck by how their work promotes the above ideas with an elegant balance of sharp photography, handwritten words and flowcharts, and enhancing audio. Tejal Rao of Grist magazine detailed the creation process:
[LS Founder Douglas] Gayeton got the idea for the Lexicon project about two years ago, in the middle of a dinner party, when a guest butchered the definition of “food miles.” If Gayeton could define and build out the language of sustainability, he thought, he could give people the tools they needed to bounce around real ideas. To make a change. Gayeton identified 100 key terms and began visiting the farmers, fishermen, foragers, and chefs across the country who could help him define them. “I simply spend time with them. I don’t know what I’m doing in advance and I don’t storyboard anything. I just listen.” 

The artist shoots an average of 1,000 photographs with each of his subjects. He then prints the photos out, cutting and pasting up to 100 of them together to create a massive collage (the smaller pieces are four by five feet; the larger ones cover a wall). From here Gayeton takes the stories of his subjects – their thoughts, recipes,ramblings – and writes them down on a sheet of glass, which is layered on the collage and shot again, the text floating dreamily above the image. This painstaking process, even with the assistance of a small team, takes Gayeton about three weeks.
Each still shines, and the films shimmer. Crisp presentation grounds the stories, philosophies, etymologies, and we watch ideas and reclamations build on screen. Ultimately, the Lexicon of Sustainability brings us all to square one and irons out the words we use, or have heard, or haven’t heard, or have mispronounced, before handing us our language back, newly accessible, meaningfully enhanced, and wrinkle-free.

Be sure to explore the Lexicon of Sustainability’s website, and to follow Mr. Kraus-Polk on the Rural Arts and Culture Map for more posts. Below, “This is the Story of An Egg” and “Foraging.” Enjoy!

Lexicon of Sustainability: This is the Story of An Egg from lexicon of sustainability on Vimeo.

Lexicon of Sustainability: Foraging from lexicon of sustainability on Vimeo.