Picture of the Week—Art and the Environment Meet | Science | Smithsonian
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Picture of the Week—Art and the Environment Meet

Humans have a huge impact on our environment, but visualizing the extent of that impact is rarely easy. Artist Chris Jordan, though, has attempted to depict it by creating beautiful images out of specific quantities of ordinary things, such as thirty seconds' worth of U.S. aluminum can consumption ...

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Humans have a huge impact on our environment, but visualizing the extent of that impact is rarely easy. Artist Chris Jordan, though, has attempted to depict it by creating beautiful images out of specific quantities of ordinary things, such as thirty seconds' worth of U.S. aluminum can consumption (106,000) or the number of plastic cups used on U.S. airline flights every six hours (one million). Jordan writes on his web site:

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.


In his new series Running the Numbers II, Jordan ramps up his numbers to the global scale. The image above is Gyre, 2009, which measures 8 by 11 feet in real life and depicts 2.4 million pieces of plastic, the estimated amount of plastic pollution that enters the world's oceans every hour. All of the plastic pieces in the image were collected from the Pacific Ocean, home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. On Jordan's web site, he zooms in on the images so objects like a comb, toothbrush and hanger can all be seen.



Jordan is one of five artists currently documenting the Pacific's plastic problem from Midway Island. He writes:

I envision our project not as being a bunch of professional media people tramping around the island with cameras; instead I hope it will be an emotional and spiritual journey by a deeply connected group of artists, to honor the the issues that Midway represents. Maybe it is not too ambitious to hope—if we can fully rise to the occasion—that we might be able to co-create a multi-media work of art that tenderly witnesses this middle point that humanity finds itself at right now. And in the eye of the storm—the apex of the Gyre—perhaps our collaborative efforts can create a container for healing that might have some small effect on the collective choice that is to come.


Image credit: Chris Jordan



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About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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