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Eugene Weekly : Visual Art : 1.13.11


Monumental Art from Monumental Junk

Chris Jordans Running the Numbers opens at the J-Schnitz

by Suzi Steffen

Art from questions: How many commercial flights go over the U.S. every 8 hours? How many plastic beverage bottles get used in the U.S. every five minutes? How many artists go on The Colbert Report and hang with Stephen Colbert?

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

Answers Chris Jordan started thinking about this kind of thing ãand other numbers, like the number of aluminum cans used in the U.S. every 30 seconds ---

On The Colbert Report in 2007 (http://wkly.ws/10j), Jordan noted that because the U.S. waste stream spreads out across the country (and farther), its impossible for people to fathom how much we throw away, or recycle. In his Cans Seurat, for instance, he recreates the famous Seurat painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte with digitally manipulated images of soda cans. According to the 2007 numbers, people in the U.S. recycled about half of the aluminum cans they use, which per minute would be 212,000 cans. Half of that gave Jordan the Cans Seurat image.

Jordans "Running the Numbers,” an exhibit of 20 large images, opens at the UOs Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art from 6 to 8 pm Friday, Jan. 14. The museums executive director, Jill Hartz, says that the Seattle-based Jordan and his work fit well into the ethos of the UO. "Sustainability and sustainable cities,” Hartz says, "is one of the universitys Big Ideas.”

True, and the capitals are intentional: The UO set out its "Big Ideas” in 2007, with two of them ã visible here: http://wkly.ws/10k ã designated as Sustainable Cities and Green Product Design. In Jordans exhibit, even seemingly eco-friendly products like paper bags (recyclable, often made of mostly recycled materials) look irredeemable, and the statistic ã "114 million brown paper supermarket bags used in the U.S. every hour” ã seems not only huge but also ridiculous. Eugene, one hopes, doesnt add very much to that tally, but looking at Jordans Paper Bags might mean considering holding a canvas bag close at hand at all times.

Some of his works funny or tongue-in-cheek, like using a representation of enjoyment like a soda can to recreate a scene of the French working class on their day off, or the Barbies and the Benjamins. The Barbies, 32,000 of them, combine to form a white womans torso. That numbers the total of elective breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month in 2006.

The Benjamins, which would be 125,000 $100 bills or $12.5 million, or the amount the U.S. government spent on the war in Iraq every hour from 2003 to 2008, form a portrait of Ben himself.

Hartz says the show combines well with the upcoming artists residency of Jen Van Winkle, an artist from Virginia who works primarily with reused materials and kids or others in workshops that culminate in public art projects. "Its an opportunity to link with new communities on campus and off,” she says.

In addition, the Jordan show will be lit by LED bulbs in an experiment thats part of a larger study of museums and LED lights. "They have no heat, and the energy savings is amazing,” Hartz says. "But they havent been able [until now] to cast the kind of light you can look at art with.”

"Running the Numbers” has traveled all over the place since Jordan mounted it in 2007, mostly to galleries, museums and university museums on the West Coast (including a few stops in British Columbia). Jordan has always hoped that with this show, viewers might change their habits and consume less ã perhaps not replace one cellphone a year, not drink so much bottled water or soda, not consume a Seurats worth of aluminum cans every month, not leave their pets unfixed, maybe not buy so many SUVs.

That might be preaching to the choir in Eugene, and the bluntly didactic message also might seem a little less artful than the usual show at the museum. Hartz says, "Some work better than others as amazing, beautiful photographs, and if sometimes being blunt works better [for Jordan], well, well see what the audiences think!”

"Running the Numbers: Portraits of Mass Consumption” opens Saturday, Jan. 15, and stays up through early April. An opening runs 6-8 pm Friday, Jan. 14, and exhbit curator Chris Bunch, from Seattle, speaks at 2 pm Jan. 15. Artist Chris Jordan gives two talks Wed. Jan. 26, one, about switching careers from corporate lawyer to artist, at the Knight Law School at 12:30 pm; one an exhibition talk at 5:30 pm in 177 Lawrence Hall, both on the UO campus.