Chris Jordan: illustrating the effects of mass consumption through art

You may well have seen one of Mike Biddle’s inspiring presentations and remember the amazing abstract image of thousands of interwoven grey lines…that prove to be plastic disposable cups, upon closer inspection. In fact, the image depicts one million cups, the same amount used by commercial flights in the US every six hours. This overwhelming image is one of the many poignant, ground-breaking works by Chris Jordan, an American artist who uses art to illustrate mass consumption and waste, and raise awareness of the social and environmental risks of Western consumer behaviour.

Seattle-based Jordan, who worked for ten years as a lawyer before becoming a photographer, uses photo images as the basis for his moving artwork. His large scale image ‘Ben Franklin’, a montage of 125,000 US $100 bills, represented the amount spent on the Iraq war every hour by the US government. Meanwhile, his ‘Cigarette Butts’ image shows 139,000 cigarette butts, equal to the number of cigarettes smoked and discarded every 15 seconds in the US.

Jordan’s project ‘Midway: Message from the Gyre’, which he began in 2009, features a series of photographs depicting the rotting carcasses of baby Laysan albatrosses, their stomachs filled with plastic. These birds nest on the Midway Atoll, some 2,000 miles from the nearest continent, and are fed plastic by their parents, who find floating plastic in the middle of the ocean and mistake it for food. As part of this project, Jordan is currently making the Midway Journey film.

Art is increasingly being used as a medium to convey serious messages about the impacts of human activity on the environment. The Plastic Garbage Project exhibition in Zürich, Switzerland, illustrates the volume of plastic waste discharged into the sea every second in a highly visual way. Designed to encourage people to think more carefully about reusing and recycling plastic waste, the exhibition is set to tour throughout Europe.