The Lexicon of Sustainability

Biodiversity Vs. Monoculture, with farmer Rick Knoll; The Lexicon of Sustainability

Grist recently highlighted an art project that many of our readers will be very excited about: The Lexicon of Sustainability. Douglas Gayeton’s work mixes collage, handwriting, photography, technical knowledge and vernacular spirit into eloquent illustrations of sustainability’s central tenets. Many thanks to Rachel Reynolds Luster for the tip.
Here’s Tejal Rao writing in Grist:
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 can 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.
Mr. Gayeton’s work is such a surprising and direct approach that it’s hard not to get excited, and not to get lost The Lexicon of Sustainability site. Beyond that, I sense that the artist has pioneered a new kind of visual art and media storytelling strategy, a technique perfect for telling the deeper history of a place or a practice. Among the folks Mr. Gayeton is planning to spend time with is Wes Jackson–and I’m excited for how this art could visualize Mr. Jackson’s historically and culturally deep understanding of a single field. I also think of “A Native Hill” by Wendell Berry; I can only imagine how Mr. Gayeton could bring-to-image the story of how Mr. Berry reclaimed his farm, how, written underneath a seemingly-simple patchwork of fields, human and agricultural narratives spread across each other like a series of dizzying transparency sheets.
Beyond that, many of us working to advocate for rural place, culture, and arts could think about how some variation on this visual approach could help bring our stories to life–and to new audiences.
Here are two video clips. The first is an explanation of the project, while the second is a stunning visualization of the process Mr. Gayeton utilizes for all of his Lexicon pieces.

Introducing … The Lexicon of Sustainability from the lexicon of sustainability on Vimeo.

FORAGING: from “The Lexicon of Sustainability” from the lexicon of sustainability on Vimeo.