Chris Jordan: Running the Numbers
We live in a world that is increasingly shrinking; communication technology has made it possible for any two people on any two computers, anywhere on the planet, to know all about one another, yet never have to meet in person. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that it is a common thing for people to lose sight of scale. Chris Jordans’ body of work, Running the Numbers, sets out to correct this lack of awareness, and to illustrate the impact that a single person, family, community or country can make on the planet as a whole.
On display at the St. Louis Artist’s Guild, in Oak Knoll Park, “Running the Numbers: Photographs by Chris Jordan” is a small exhibit consisting of just three, large works. This is presented in loose association with several other artists’ displays brought together for their common theme of conservation awareness and/or environmental sustainability. In the case of Jordan’s work, each object makes a truly dramatic impression that is felt long after standing in front of them.
Not having any firsthand experience viewing Mr. Jordan’s art, my first reaction was to their scale; these prints are massive (on the Andreas Gursky side of the bigness meter). My favorite image, Plastic Bottles, reads like an allover composition from the “Action Painter” era. In particular, Mark Tobey sprang immediately to mind. From several feet away, your eye soars over the image with no focal point to weigh it down, while small clusters of colors momentarily form indiscriminate patterns in a way similar to that of light peeking through the leaves of a gently swaying tree. It is only after some time staring at the work, that a very subtle undulating effect is observed, and this is what drew me closer.
Standing at two feet or so in front of Plastic Bottles allows the subject to emerge from behind the veil of any first perceptions. There is some shock in suddenly realizing that the entire image is composed literally of an immense pile of plastic bottles. The undulations are the subtle ridges and valleys of the pile as it stretches off into the distance.
Upon reading the label, another powerful surprise was registered, “Depicts two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every five minutes.” This is the effectiveness of Chris Jordan’s work, that which is generally mundane becomes beautifully sublime before transforming finally into an acute self-affirmation of our own grotesque over-consumption. Compelling? Yes.
Chris Jordan: “This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society; in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the roles and responsibilities we each play as individuals in a collective that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.”
Certainly, the building-wide exhibit is less impressive than the presentation of the three works by Chris Jordan, but the message still resounds. Overall, my first visit to the St. Louis Artists’ Guild was quite inspiring, despite also leaving me a bit self-effacing (in a good way).
Running the Numbers runs from Friday, November 11, 2011 to Saturday, January 7, 2012. As always, the St. Louis Artists’ Guild’s galleries are free and open to the public.