29 OCTOBER, 2008
By: Maria Popova
What Van Gogh has to do with Big Tobacco and how piles of folded laundry put the prison system in perspective.
The best of art is about something bigger than aestheticism, something that reflects on culture and makes a social statement that moves people. The work of artist Chris Jordan does just that. It grabs culture by its most unsettling truths, then displays them in gripping visuals that are part data, part philosophy, part brilliant photographic art.
Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait, Jordan’s latest project, exposes those hidden layers of consumerism, the big truths we give little thought to, by putting the devastating scale of our cultural excess into perspective. A visualization of statistical data, the project attempts to bring a human perspective to the alienating world of numbers.
Each statistically accurate image is a collage of miniature photographs portraying a specific excess: The 15 million sheets of office paper we use every 5 minutes, the 106,000 aluminum cans we chug every 30 seconds, the 3.6 million SUV’s we buy every year, the 2.3 million Americans in prison, and so forth.
Plastic Cups depicts the one million plastic cups U.S. airlines use every 6 hours. Looking at the image from far away, it resembles a neo-industrial landscape where factories are spewing filth into the sky. Closer up, it transforms into a series of interwoven pipes. And really close up, you realize these are all stacks of actual plastic cups.
Barbie Dolls exposes the 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries performed in the U.S. in 2006 through an equal number of Barbie dolls. The soft natural curves of a woman’s body seen in the full-scale image stand in stark contrast to the plasticky unrealness of the dolls in the close-up.
Denali Denial paints a portrait of the parts of nature we’re losing thanks to our reckless unsustainable habits. The image is composed of 24,000 logos from the GMC Yukon Denali, equal to six weeks of sales of that model SUV in 2004.
Watch Chris Jordan’s eye-opening TED talk where he talks about his art, probes uncomfortable truths, and compares public reaction to the 3,000 deaths in 9/11 with the lack thereof to the 11,000 deaths from smoking that day and every other day.
What we admire most is that his art doesn’t aim to point the finger but, rather, to put our individual role as change agents into perspective.
In a world where large numbers have become practically meaningless, it’s easy to glide over the piles of zeroes, but it gets a little harder when we’re looking straight at the building blocks of our apocalypse.