Perspectives on greener product development and manufacturing from Sustainable Minds, our partners, customers and contributors.

The Art Of Numbers

By Rajat Shail on September 18, 2009

We as a generation have become so desensitized by numbers and statistics thrown at us that large numbers fail to find impact and we remain largely bored by the gigantic amount of data available to us in the modern world.

Careless consumerism and its unseen, unaccounted for aftermath are finally getting some attention in the major information forums, however it remains difficult to engage the masses in a meaningful discussion for lack of a visceral response among the general population. I recently stumbled upon the work of an artist – Chris Jordan -- who tackles this with great ingenuity.

His artist’s statement expresses his deceptively simple approach:

“Finding meaning in global mass phenomena can be difficult because the phenomena themselves are invisible, spread across the earth in millions of separate places. There is no Mount Everest of waste that we can make a pilgrimage to and behold the sobering aggregate of our discarded stuff, seeing and feeling it viscerally with our senses. Instead, we are stuck with trying to comprehend the gravity of these phenomena through the anaesthetizing and emotionally barren language of statistics.”
-Chris Jordan

In an urgent battle to help us find our sensible shoes, Chris Jordan displays a great understanding of the senses and how they work. He uses the power of numbers to illuminate the meaning of numbers, using artistically arranged compilations of human squanderings, making one a little less likely to turn away from the illustration. In a world where many people surprisingly still continue to equate green thinking with elitist capriciousness or at worst, propaganda, Jordan finds a way to engage the emotional and awaken the rational.

The images of Mount Fuji being engulfed by a stylized Japanese wave, for example, depicts 2.4 million pieces of plastic, which represents the number of pounds of plastic pollution which enter the world’s oceans every hour. The image, called Gyre 2009, takes a classic image by Hokusai, and recreates it using plastic waste collected from the Pacific Ocean. It’s part of Jordan’s latest show, entitled Running the Numbers II: Portraits of global mass culture.

It is a mistake to imagine Jordan’s work limited to ecological ideals, for it is firmly rooted in the social and global context of which only one of the more pressing issues are ecological ones. Alluding to crime, political motives and an inherent lack of consumer curiosity regarding the full result of every purchase he tessellates our collective decisions into beautiful images of decay and consequence.

I highly recommend that you see a show of Chris Jordan’s work when it appears near you. Here is a schedule of shows of his work:

Curated by Chris Bruce at Washington State University Art Gallery.
Washington State University Museum of Art: Jan 14 - Apr 4, 2009:
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History: May 15 - Sep 11, 2009
Pacific Science Center, Seattle: Oct. 3, 2009 - Jan. 3, 2010
Haverford College Art Gallery, Haverford, PA: Jan - Mar, 2010
Austin Museum of Art, Austin TX: May 22 - Aug 15, 2010
College of Charleston, SC: Fall 2010
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon: Jan - Mar, 2011
Whatcom Museum of History and Art, Bellingham, WA: Apr- July 2011:


Image credit: Chris Jordan