Visual Art Apr 16, 2009 at 4:00 am

Can Chris Jordan Change the World and Make Great Art at the Same Time?

Curt Doughty


mass consumption. snore.
i'm sure his litigation background makes him a compelling speaker especially given that the topics are ones that people can't help but cream themselves over. unfortunately the art is so simple, so benign, and so obvious. not to mention, anything but unique. i dub him captain obvious. seattle is strong on photographers, but chris jordan is not one of them.
Funny, I don't see any plastic bags in the ocean closeup. I probably do, however, see inkjet cartridges, which Jordan uses very very many of. Just sayin'.

I liked his work better, and thought it was much more artistic, when it was actual photographs and not composites. They ARE illustrations, and are very high-quality versions of what you might see in a USAToday info box -- "these represent the number of prisoners", etc. His new work is profoundly unsubtle, and thus damaged as art. He's just an advocate now.
Agreed. His earlier shots of real mass-accumulation were astonishing, and it seems like when he ran out of source material for those, he decided to Photoshop his own. The common, ignorant comment "I could do that" might actually be appropriate here, because his recent work is maybe not really art. Still, I am interested to see where he goes artistically – there's nothing wrong with an overly earnest phase as you figure out who you are.

(I think that last sentence might have been my own overly earnest phase.)
There is a show of five of his works at the Portland Art Museum at the moment. For me, the most compelling is a rendering of Van Gogh's Skull with Burning Cigarette composed of 2e5 images of cigarette box bottoms. Through 12 July 2009.
In Katrina's Wake is by far Chris's most poetic and touching body of work. He is a genius with the 8x10 camera. Hopefully he will return to that style, but knowing the variety of what he's done so far makes me feel like he's still experimenting. Either way Seattle is fantastically lucky to have him in our community.
you see poetic, i see opportunistic unless all proceeds went to the victims. ethics are a big part of art, wouldn't you agree. See Spike Lee. And if he did, I still don't know if it is really art (see above: simple, benign, unoriginal, and obvious)? I guess that is the problem I see with his work in general. Nice to know I'm not the only one. Unfortunately, as long as there are people who only see the poetic and don't consider the larger institutional ramifications, art in general will suffer.

Having spoken directly with him about his work, to me it seems very relevant. It simply seeks to ask one to be aware - maybe throw away a little less plastic? etc. Be a smart consumer. They are simple works but the process is a long one. Being alerted of problems we have as a society is the first step to making changes to prolong and improve the way we manage things on this planet. If you actually read into the statistics at all and realize we only have about 20 - 30 years left of decent living conditions before things get really f*ked up you might feel differently. It isn't an agenda, its called presenting the facts. Pure and simple.
Meh... I've seen this guys stuff everywhere. I understand the message, and it looks cool, but it just seems like a gimmick. How is this different than those other giant photos that are made up of smaller ones that we see all over the place? you know, like a giant photo of Yoda made up of tiny photos of scenes from star wars movies?

sorry, but you should know better or at least you should consider not the value of the impact, but the importance of the art. or at least consider what this intolerable art means to the future of seattle art. we are suppose to be didactic, through simple visuals. is that what you want? seems to me that is what jenn was talking about in terms of the vacouver problem? we as concerned citizens realize the impact of global warming, we read magazines just like you and the artist. we probably read things that you do not. anyways... we do not need art to tell us that. at least in the didactic fashion that he seems to excel in. i guess that is the lawyer in him, he knows best. his photos still leave me completely and horribly with an unethical taste in my mouth and if someone can please tell me why it isn't, let me know. it is an extreme example of everything that is against the seattle art historical timeline. as it does not allow for further discussion past itself. am i wrong?
Its julia, not julie to you, and obviously its impacting you or you wouldn't find yourself visiting this article over and over and leaving comments. You in particular (GF naked picture taking person) seem to find a distaste in his work. That is fine. I do also get frustrated with the Info-Aesthetic movement with thoughts of it being a waste of time and not "proper art" however when challenged myself to make an artful piece that simply translates a statistic in a way that would make an impact, I found it very hard. Therefore I can respect his solution. To answer your question, if you are wrong, I would say yes because you are contradicting yourself by saying that it doesn't lead to further discussion. What are we doing here now: discussing. Do I want it to represent all Seattle Art? No. Do I want all art to be like this?: NO. Do I think it has a place in the world and will go see it at the Science Museum? Yes. Art is subjective therefore really this conversation is null. Facts are facts and something must be done about them. I appreciate them being translated in a visual way that inspires me to keep fighting the good fight. That is all. And Star Wars person, please come out of fantasy world and do something good for the planet today. Perhaps use the force to start inventing a new plastic that is biodegradable. If not for yourself then maybe for the earth you leave behind to someone you love or perhaps your children that all you people are leaving behind. I am not arguing for the man or the lawyer I'm just defending the concept. Waste not want not.
For me, the photographs of New Orleans gave the destruction more of a context. The images are devastating and beautiful at the same time, and the message about global warming is urgent and powerful. Calling them "opportunistic" is like saying anytime a disaster happens and people document it they are being exploitive. And yes, all proceeds from the book (which is now sold out) were donated to Gulf Coast relief charities. Consider the ramifications of that, jerkface.

It does some of what art can do but it does so only in a simple and manipulative way. It is a shallow form of art and it's ambitions go only a little beyond what a TV commercial does or a billboard (and I've seen much better in both media). Who wouldn't be touched by an in your face example of waste in the world? You would have to be totally crass. I've seen the starving children on TV and black lungs (etc.) on the billboards both have given me a visceral feeling as I breezed by them, but they are far from art. I can't say that Jason's photographs are any more then adequately designed backdrops for his cause, good cause though it may be.

The thing is, he is doing something interesting and in a very successful way. But to push your art in a similar direction will only enslave you to a world of cheap objects and simple minded aesthetics.


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