Chris Jordan’s ‘Running The Numbers’

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Hundreds of books have been written about visualizing information, how we transform abstract data into images and concepts that actually mean something to us.

Seattle-based artist Chris Jordan takes photographs of common objects, even garbage, and digitally manipulates them into larger statements about mass consumption and waste. The work seen above, for example, is called “Plastic Bottles” (2007) and “depicts two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every five minutes.”

Other works depict 166,000 packing peanuts representing the number of overnight packages shipped by air in the United States every hour, the 28,000 42-gallon barrels of oil consumed in the US every two minutes, and the 426,000 cell phones disposed of in the US every day. Looking at Jordan’s work helps adjust your sense of scale. We sure are a big country and we sure use a lot of stuff.

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“Plastic Bottles” is part of Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait:

Running the Numbers looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month.

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.

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“Chris Jordan: Running The Numbers – It Changes The Way You View The World” is on display in Seattle’s Art + Science at Pacific Science Center through January 3.

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