Did you know that in the United States 426,000 cell phones are tossed out every day? That 60,000 plastic bags are consumed every five seconds? How about two million plastic beverage bottles every five minutes? These are some of the questions Seattle-based photographer Chris Jordan addresses in his large-scale images that most often depict American consumerism, for which he has received worldwide acclaim.
His most well-known exhibit, “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait,” (also a book), a provocative and compelling social commentary on the way we live, is opening at the Pacific Science Center this Saturday, October 3, 2009. In “Running the Numbers,” Jordan uses statistics to portray the economy, American culture and our way of life.
Many of Jordan’s works are inspired and created by photographs of garbage, a technique he picked up while visiting an industrial yard. The final product is a print assembled from thousands of smaller photographs, many of which depict specific quantities of some item, like Cans Seurat (above), which is made out of 106,000 aluminum cans, the amount consumed in the United States every 30 seconds.
“Exploring around our country’s shipping ports and industrial yards, where the accumulated detritus of our consumption is exposed to view like eroded layers in the Grand Canyon, I find evidence of a slow-motion apocalypse in progress,” said Jordan in a Pacific Science Center press release. “I am appalled by these scenes, and yet also drawn into them with awe and fascination. The immense scale of our consumption can appear desolate, macabre, oddly comical and ironic, and even darkly beautiful; for me its consistent feature is a staggering complexity.”
Jordan clearly hopes to make onlookers think about their individual contribution to the American way of life with his exhibit, which is a social, but also by nature, political commentary.
Barbie Dolls (above) depicts 32,000 Barbies, representative of the number of elective breast augmentation surgeries performed in the United States each month in 2006.
When asked what the Pacific Science Center’s attitude was towards housing an exhibit that is not only interesting and scientific, but political by nature, President and CEO Bryce Seidl responded:
Often the numbers generated by common activities are so large they become incomprehensible to those not intimately involved in studying economics, resource utilization and consumption. In some cases, however, it is critically important for the average citizen to better understand the impact and importance of the cumulative impact of small activities that in total can only be expressed by large numbers.
We hear many statistics about consumption and waste, but they are often just numbers on a page. Chris Jordan’s work exposes some of these statistics in a powerful, visceral way. It is one thing to hear that we in the United States use 2 million plastic bottles every 5 minutes. Seeing images that help us understand the magnitude and impact of those 2 million bottles creates an undeniable impact. By illustrating some other more unexpected examples of consumption, the Artist is asking us to examine the attitudes and beliefs behind the habits that are impacting the world we inhabit.
The exhibit is not political by nature. It is just images of what is. How one interprets this reality is personal and may become translated into political activity. It is neither our role nor intent to present a political position. It is our intent to present to the community information related to science, math, engineering and technology and to foster discussions about how these subjects are relevant to our lives today and to the future. Chris Jordan combines the eye of an artist with real data about human actions in a way that invites thoughtful discussions about the individual and collective impacts of human activities.
Some of Jordan’s other projects include “Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption,” and “In Katrina’s Wake: Portraits of Loss From an Unnatural Disaster.” Check those out at his website.
“Running the Numbers” will be at the Pacific Science Center from Saturday, October 3, 2009 to Sunday, January 3, 2010.
Also opening at the Pacific Science Center Saturday: “Animation,” an interactive exhibit of how animation is made from concept art, to storyboarding, character design, movement, filming, timing and sound. Check out the old-time animation in the screening room and cartoon museum. Also, running through January 3, both exhibits are included in the price of admission and are free to Pacific Science Center members.