Students and teachers alike are captivated by the large-scale photographic collages of Seattle based artist, Chris Jordan. Currently on exhibition at the AMoA, Running the Numbers features multi-faceted artworks that are all at once shocking, and beautiful.
Upon arrival at the museum, tour groups are introduced to the idea that these photographs beckon to be looked at both far away and up close… and participants are invited to do just that. Our docents and staff use VTS strategies to discuss the artworks as a whole – asking students what they see when standing several feet back. Since there are no “right” or “wrong” answers, students are eager to share their findings and discuss multiple points of view. As young observers step closer to the artworks, exclamations are heard!
It becomes apparent that these images are actually made up of lots and lots of tiny pictures – parts of a whole. And these pictures pack a pretty important message: America has become quite the consumer society.
Take a look at Cans Seurat below…
And here is a detail at actual size.
This take on the famous Georges Seurat painting, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, depicts 106,000 aluminum cans – equal to the number used and discarded in the US every 30 seconds… that’s right, THIRTY SECONDS!! But imagine trying to explain this gigantic number to children without the aid of a picture. Large numbers are virtually impossible to understand even as adults. Chris Jordan explains that to show these raw and emotionless statistics, he felt they needed to be presented visually. There is nowhere we can go to actually see these Mt. Everest sized piles of trash, and so it almost feels like the effects of all this waste are invisible. Yet here we begin to make a connection, thus realizing the true impact of the items we discard.
Students learn about recycling and the environment from a very early age. Some children touring the museum even talk about the ways their parents and schools implement recycling in their daily lives – such as taking reusable grocery bags to the store, or discarding plastic products in recycling bins in school cafeterias. This exhibition helps bring understanding and validation to those practices. Chris Jordan reminds us that, “there isn’t one bad person out there who is doing a huge amount of terrible consuming. This is happening because of the tiny incremental harm that every single one of us is doing as an individual.” So to address this issue with students in a non-accusatory way, we make it clear that the artist is not pointing fingers. He does not mean to tell us that we shouldn’t ever drink from aluminum cans, or drive big gas guzzling vehicles. Instead, each one of us is asked to simply think on it. We are prompted to think about the decisions we make, and how they apply to the bigger picture.
If schools book an Enhanced Tour with AMoA, students participate in a hands-on art activity in our education lab that is related to the exhibition. The project that accompanies this body of work is particularly cool because it engages students on many levels. To address Chris Jordan’s use of mandalas in his work, they each get to create a mandala painting using their fingers. The connection is made that while Jordan’s large images are actually created with tiny parts, the students create a whole work using small dots or marks made by the tips of their fingers in the same type of circular design they see in the galleries.
Oil Barrels is one example of a mandala seen on the tours. Click on the photograph to be taken to Chris Jordan’s website. Below are some examples of young students’ mandala paintings.
This activity also reinforces color-mixing techniques. Students are encouraged to make secondary and tertiary colors using only the primary colors of paint. They learn that yellow is a weak color, and must be mixed in larger quantities than blue or red.
Through facilitated discussion, and a related art project, we are seeing students who are extremely eager to learn about art! As art educators, it is exciting to see so many young visitors making their own connections from the artworks they see on the walls of our museum to real-life situations. We believe that tours foster an ideal environment for critical and creative thinking. And what better way to do this, than by looking together at the fascinating and meaningful works of Chris Jordan!