By Kamaria Greenfield
Chris Jordan is an acclaimed digital photography artist whose previous collections have included pieces such as Toothpicks, which depicts in toothpicks the annual number of trees cut down to make junk mail. In 2009, he embarked upon a new project called “Running the Numbers II: portraits of global mass culture.” Every piece in this collection is a digital image, some replicas of very well-known paintings or graphics.
Chris Jordan's modern art includes important societal messages that are hidden until the viewer gets very close. (Photo credit: PBS) Chris Jordan's modern art includes important societal messages that are hidden until the viewer gets very close. (Photo credit: PBS)
Closer inspection of Jordan’s work reveals the powerful social message. On first glance, Maya, created in 2011, depicts a brown-and-white circular Mayan artifact. But by moving closer to the art piece in real life (or by clicking the online image to zoom in), the viewer realizes that the tiny flecks of color are plant seeds—92,500 seeds, to be exact. The caption on Jordan’s site informs the viewer that the number is “equal to one hundredth of one percent of the number of people in the world today who suffer from malnutrition. To illustrate the entire statistic with 925 million seeds would require ten thousand prints of this image, covering more than eight football fields.” The larger version of Maya measures 5×5’. Other equally riveting works include a replica of Van Gogh’s Starry Night fashioned from 50,000 cigarette lighters, and John Sibbick’s famous charging T. rex composed of 240,000 plastic bags.
Every piece in Running the Numbers II was created to illustrate issues affecting the world. Jordan acknowledges his dual role as artist and activist, saying that when viewed at first, his images are “like something else, maybe totally boring pieces of modern art. On closer view, the visitor has an almost unpleasant experience with the artwork. It’s almost a magic trick; inviting people to a conversation that they didn’t want to have in the first place. One visitor recently compared me to a ‘sleight-of-hands-magician’ that makes people face up to a difficult truth, I quite liked that.”
Jordan has not discussed future projects, but hopes that people will become conscious of the disconnect that exists between them and the happenings of the world—and work together to fix it.
Kamaria Greenfield is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.