Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking

From artist Chris Jordan of Seattle’s Web site:

This series 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 410,000 paper cups used every fifteen minutes. This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. The underlying desire is to emphasize the role of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.

My only caveat about this series is that the prints must be seen in person to be experienced the way they are intended. As with any large artwork, their scale carries a vital part of their substance which is lost in these little web images. Hopefully the JPEGs displayed here might be enough to arouse your curiosity to attend an exhibition, or to arrange one if you are in a position to do so. The series is a work in progress, and new images will be posted as they are completed, so please stay tuned.

~chris jordan, Seattle, 2007

Plastic Cups, 2007
60×90″

Depicts one million plastic cups, the number used on airline flights in the US every six hours.
Chris Jordan, Plastic Cups, 2007

Partial zoom:
Chris Jordan, Plastic Cups, 2007

Detail at actual print size:
Chris Jordan, Plastic Cups, 2007

Barbie Dolls, 2008
60×80″

Depicts 32,000 Barbies, equal to the number of elective breast augmentation surgeries performed monthly in the US in 2006.
Chris Jordan, Barbie Dolls, 2008

Partial zoom:
Chris Jordan, Barbie Dolls, 2008

Detail at actual print size:
Chris Jordan, Barbie Dolls, 2008

Cans Seurat, 2007
60×92″

Depicts 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds.
Chris Jordan, Cans Seurat, 2007

Partial zoom:
Chris Jordan, Cans Seurat, 2007

Detail at actual size:
Chris Jordan, Cans Seurat, 2007

Prison Uniforms, 2007
10×23 feet in six vertical panels

Depicts 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005.
Chris Jordan, Prison Uniforms, 2007

Partial zoom:
Chris Jordan, Prison Uniforms, 2007

Detail at actual size:
Chris Jordan, Prison Uniforms, 2007

Installed at the Von Lintel Gallery, NY, June 2007
Chris Jordan, Prison Uniforms, 2007

Update – cj, Seattle, March 2008
Currently I am working on three new Running the Numbers sub-series that I am hoping to release this fall and winter. Experts in these fields are helping me to develop issues and visual themes, but I welcome additional ideas from scholars or activists in any of these areas:

The World’s Oceans: This series will look at the numbers associated with the exploitation and destruction of our oceans, including issues such as overfishing, illegal fishing, by-catch, ghost nets, shark finning, bottom trawling, and plastic pollution.

Africa: This series will depict numbers related to contemporary Africa, including issues such as refugees, water-borne disease, child pregnancy and others, as well as some more hopeful issues such as African internet and cell phone usage, micro-lending and some others. This series will be featured at the TED Africa Conference in Capetown in September-October.

The Extinction Trade: This series will look at statistics associated with the worldwide mass killing and trading of animals for their tusks, horns, eggs, paws, teeth, fur, etc.

These new series will be posted here as they are completed, so please stay tuned.

thanks Linda

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