Wednesday, September 23, 2015

2.4 Million Pounds

2.4 Million Pounds

Can a painting change behavior? 

After an hour in an art museum I am full of joy, connection, inspiration.  Will these feelings make me less likely to drop my trash outside onto the sidewalk?  Might my art-expanded heart enlarge my compassion for the world outside?

Artist Chris Jordan hopes so.  This collage, an homage to the classic Japanese painting of a crashing wave with Mt. Fuji in the distance, is not just a pretty picture.  He created it to inspire us but also to change us, to make us less trashy and more compassionate.

And we will change, he hopes, because we will understand what the number 2.4 million looks like.  Or weighs like, actually.

Every hour, day and night, 2.4 million pounds of plastic enters the world’s oceans.  So to help us comprehend that number, Jordan used 2.4 million pieces of plastic to create this collage. (This is a photo of the original, which is huge, 8x11 ft.) 

If you can zoom in you’ll see plastic spoons and combs and toothbrushes along with millions of specks and flecks of beautiful color and deadly poison.

It’s part of the exhibit about plastics at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, encouraging us to reduce, recycle and reuse.  But instead of dreary photos of all the plastic found in one albatross’ stomach (well, they’ve got one of those too) they invited artists to create things of beauty, made out of things of ugly.  Lots of gorgeous sculptures and installations all made from plastic.

At first we see beauty and our hearts are opened.  Looking closer and seeing the trash, we see the ugly, and our hearts are broken.

Jordan says of this work, “It is so hard to comprehend the gravity of phenomena [like ocean plastics] through the anaesthetizing and emotionally barren language of statistics.  Sociologists tell us that the human mind cannot meaningfully grasp numbers higher than a few thousand; yet every day we read of mass phenomena characterized by numbers in the millions, billions, even trillions…I believe it is worth connecting with these issues and allowing them to matter to us personally, despite the complex mixture of anger, fear, grief and rage that this process can entail.  Perhaps these uncomfortable feelings can become part of what connects us, serving as fuel for courageous individual and collective action as citizens of a new kind of global community.  This hope continues to motivate my work.”

2.4 million bits of ugly combine for one work of beauty.  We stroll by, inspired.  We slow down and learn.  We pause and try to count, to grasp the number.  And then maybe our hearts turn, just a bit, and we say, “Stop.”

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