What is the significance in the butterflies displayed in Lexicon? Do the butterflies carry the same narrative as well?
No, but I like the idea of a visual conversation in between these two pieces through installation. I was interested in butterflies because of the romance of their migration. I was inspired by their flight behavior, with the notion that they live such short lives. So many die on the trip and so many are born that a huge number of them that haven’t seen where they have been, and won’t make it to where they’re going, but they are going anyway. I gravitate toward that idea that they are all going to together as a community. The ones that will make it will arrive having no knowledge of the previous place, and the same will happen in the other direction. I found idea of instinctive travel really interesting—that the travel does not benefit an individual, but the community overall.
This work was a collaborative piece with my wife, using photo negatives. I was given permission to visit the restrictive collection of the Field Museum of Chicago, and they have the largest butterfly collection in the country. It was really fun. I didn’t know that they would give me so much access; they let me take them out and move them around, and photograph them. We then turned those images we took into digital negatives, and then used a process of contact printing. That just means three direct contacts: you put the negative on the paper, then you sandwich in a printing frame, and then expose it in the sunlight.
In general, why is the show called Lexicon?
The word Lexicon is another word for vocabulary. I’m really interested in words and language in general; I am much more likely to be influenced by something that I am reading other than something that I am seeing. All of the words that you know, or all of the words contained in your community, is a branch or grouping of knowledge. I really believe that language is the way that we know the world. It’s funny because I was talking with a friend of mine about that a few days ago. She is also an artist and she said, “That’s not how I view the world at all; my first language is entirely non-verbal. As an artist I know the world through making and touching things.” But for me, I am always thinking in words, and then I try to find ways to tell a story or convey a thought that is composed of words as a visual item instead.
Do you see other artists using cyanotypes in a contemporary way?
Certainly. Since there has been more and more of a push for a digital output, there has been a push back, and a resurgence in an interest in antique processes like cyanotypes or tin-types. I don’t see other really large-scale cyanotypes, and I’ve not seen other people using their body directly to make the image. But, indeed, there is more interest in the use of cyanotypes than I think there was ten or fifteen years ago.
To see more of Gray Lyons’ work, visit www.graylyons.com