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Chris Jordan’s Photographic Visualizations of Excess

What Van Gogh has to do with Big Tobacco and how piles of folded laundry put the prison system in perspective.

Skull With CigaretteThe 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.

Plastic Cups

Plastic Cups: partial zoom

Pastic Cups: full zoom

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.

Barbie Dolls

Barbie Dolls: partial zoom

Barbie Dolls: full zoom

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.

Denali Denial

Denali Denial: full zoom

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.


Starving Artist No More

Why da Vinci is rolling in his grave and thinking about peperoni pizza.

Oh, the wonders of Russian art. The great novelists. The great playwrights. The great poets. And, now, the great sausage artists.

That’s right, Russian art is branching out into the edible category with packaged meat art. See some of the great masterpieces reenvisioned with an eye for, well, the stomach.

So much for the starving artist stereotype.

And while nothing about packaged farm animal carcasses screams high culture to us, it does appear to be a thing of the bourgeois — let’s not forget that when the Titanic sank, there were 3,000 tons of ham onboard. (We’ve always wanted to throw something in from our new favorite timesuck, Unnecessary Knowledge.)

via English Russia


Geek Mondays: Unlimited Solar Power

Why MIT geeks are throwing the best dinner party ever.

After the extremely popular Blue Planet Run post last Friday, we’re still on a sustainable solutions high. And the good guys at MIT are right there with us. In a breakthrough discovery last week, they’ve found a new way of storing energy from sunlight that generates practically unlimited solar power.

Solar Power

Resembling plant photosynthesis, the process basically splits water into hydrogen and oxygen gases using sunlight. MIT chem professor Daniel Nocera explains. (Come on, stick with the man — he’s no stand-up comedian but let’s see Jerry Seinfeld save the world from the energy apocalypse.)

Why is this huge? Because, so far, the one thing keeping solar power from reaching critical mass has been the struggle to store energy efficiently when the sun doesn’t shine. This new method — both cheap and easy to implement — will eventually allow homes to harness daytime solar energy and store it for electricity at night.

So who’s coming to our first solar-powered dinner party? Say, November 14, 2010? Don’t be late.

>>> via CleanTechnica


Photography Spotlight: Blue Planet Run

World-changing photography, or why the oil crisis is the least of our liquid worries.

The best of photography goes beyond visual fascination and stunning imagery, and serves as a moving call to action.

That’s exactly what photographers Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt do in Blue Planet Run, their latest project with the ambitious goal of bringing clean drinking water to the world.

And if that’s where you roll your eyes because the blue-is-the-new-green card has been played before, stay with us: The seat of privileged is about to get a bit more uncomfortable.

The book, which Amazon offers as a free PDF for a limited time, is a tumultuous blend of photography both stunning photography, chilling revelations and — ultimately — a call to action that puts the solutions to the water problem front and center, and each of us in the driver’s seat to change.

Here are a few factoids about “the other half”:

  • 1.1 billion people don’t have access to clean water. That’s 1 in 6.

  • Half of the world today doesn’t have access to the quality of water available to Romans 2,000 years ago

  • 1.8 billion children die of waterborn disease every year. That’s one child every 15 seconds, or 3 dead children by the time it took you to get this far in the post.
  • 4,800 people die every day of waterborn disease. That’s the equivalent of 11 jumbo airplane crashes.
  • 5.3 billion people — or two thirds of the world — will suffer from water shortages by 2025

And a few factoids about the kind of excess we Westerners roll in:

  • A single quarter-pound hamburger — just the meat — takes 2,900 gallons of water to make
  • The average American uses 100-175 gallons of water per day. And that doesn’t include agriculture.
  • 3,350 gallons of water are used to water the grass for every single round of golf — there are 16,100 golf courses in the U.S., on which 90 rounds are played every day. That’s 4,839,678,000 gallons of water. Supporting golf. Every day.

But because information is useless if it doesn’t effect change, the book ends on a hopeful note — Blue Planet Run Foundation was born, an ambitious hunt for solutions both at the individual and organizational levels.

In 2007, the foundation held its first real run — a 95-day, 15,200-mile race where 20 dedicated runners from 13 countries go around the world — literally — to raise awareness about the water problem.

Proceeds from the race go to the Peer Water Exchange, the foundation’s radical initiative to tackle thousands of grassroots water and sanitation projects around the world by revolutionizing the funding model and funneling it through a pool of NGO’s rather than an endless loop of bureaucracy.P

But perhaps most importantly, there are things each of us can do to alleviate the severity of the water problem. Because simple behavioral changes have a greater long-term impact than we could ever suspect.

Grab a copy of Blue Planet Run, even only for the gripping, magnificent photography. But, we promise you, somewhere in the 122 pages you’ll discover a drowning desire to get up and do something about it.


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