Clever or Effective? The Work of Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan’s art examines the massiveness of our consumption and its effects.  In his artist’s statement he says “The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive kind of mob mentality. Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences.”

Of his various series, two stand out.

The first is called “Running The Numbers – a portrait of consumer mass culture“.  In these two series, Jordan takes a specific number of items – a number with meaning – constructs an image with these items then photographs the image.

For instance, Shark Teeth is a collection of 270,000 fossilized shark teeth put together to construct an image of two sharks.  270,000 represents the estimated number of sharks that are killed every day around the world for their fins.

"Shark Teeth" - Full Image

"Shark Teeth" - Full Image

Detail of fossilized shark's teeth that make up the previous image

Detail of fossilized shark's teeth that make up the previous image

Midway” is a series of photographs that is emotionally much more striking than Running the Numbers.  Jordan describes this series as follows:

“These photographs of albatross chicks were made on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.”

From Series "Midway"

From Series "Midway"

From Series "Midway"

From Series "Midway"

I find the contrast between these two series interesting.  Running the Numbers is essentially an intellectual exercise based on shocking statistics and converted into cleverly constructed images.  Midway appeals to our raw emotions. It is a simpler series that depicts terrible consequences of our consumption. Because it’s clever, Running the Numbers is probably more likely to appeal to the art establishment.  In fact, one piece was recently included in an exhibit at the Royal Academy in London about human impact on the planet.  But, if the objective of this art were not to appeal to the artistic elite but to convince people that these issues are important and that some action is needed, which of these two series is likely to be the more effective?  I know where I’d be putting my money.

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