Feb. 26: Eco-artist links albatross deaths to sea of trash

By Beverly Makhani, Office of Undergraduate Education

Chris-Jordan-80PULLMAN, Wash. – Environmental artist Chris Jordan will discuss albatross chicks that died from eating plastic trash in a free, public presentation, “Encountering Midway: A Barometer for Our Culture and Our World,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26, in the CUB auditorium at Washington State University.

This will be the Seattle artist’s second time at WSU. The Museum of Art/WSU curated and debuted his traveling exhibit of mosaics made from garbage, “Running the Numbers I: An American Self Portrait,” (https://archive.news.wsu.edu/2008/12/17/museum-of-art-presents-running-the-numbers/#.VOImZ010yfA) in 2009. In it, he examines American consumer culture through “the austere lens of statistics” and challenges viewers to consider their roles.

‘Macabre mirror’ of consumerism

Jordan’s photography and digital imagery create strong, sometimes startling visuals. His works are featured worldwide – from galleries in Spokane, Wash., to installations in Brazil and Spain.

One of Jordan’s photos of a decomposing albatross chick, its gut filled with plastic, on Midway Island.

His WSU talk will be accompanied by his photos of the wind-blown remains of Midway Island albatross chicks whose guts were stuffed shut by bottle caps fed to them by unknowing parents who scooped the supposed food from floating fields of plastic trash on the Pacific Ocean.

“For me, kneeling over (thousands of) their carcasses is like looking into a macabre mirror,” Jordan writes. “These birds reflect back an appallingly emblematic result of the collective trance of our consumerism and runaway industrial growth. Like the albatross, we first-world humans find ourselves lacking the ability to discern anymore what is nourishing from what is toxic to our lives and our spirits.”

Garbology-100The presentation is hosted by the common reading program in the WSU Office of Undergraduate Education; co-sponsor is the Student Entertainment Board’s arts committee.

“Mr. Jordan’s art is very closely tied to topics in this year’s WSU common reading book, ‘Garbology,’” said Karen Weathermon, common reading co-director. “His work is said to ‘sound an environmental alarm around the world’ and shows his concern for the impact of society’s throwaway consumer mentality and trash.”

International eco-activism

A former attorney, Jordan left the corporate world to pursue his passion for photography. He has been an international eco-ambassador traveling with “National Geographic” for Earth Day, and was part of a unique collaboration of marine scientists and eco-activist artists in an “expedition to exhibition” project in Alaska.

Books of his work have been published, and he writes a blog, speaks internationally and exhibits solo and in groups.

His portfolio includes mosaics of tens of thousands of tiny photos composed to make a single statement; for example, a sinking ship that, upon closer examination, is comprised of 67,000 photos of mushroom clouds – equal, Jordan says, to the number of metric tons of ultra-radioactive uranium/plutonium waste being stored in temporary pools at 104 nuclear power plants across the U.S.

Photo mosaics, documentation

Other projects by Jordan include:

“Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption” (2003-2006); it consists of large-format photographs showing the largess of America’s consumption and waste.

Artist Chris Jordan.

“In Katrina’s Wake: Portraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster” (2005); this is a series of photos depicting the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“Running the Numbers II: Portraits of Global Mass Culture” (2009-2010); this project reflects the ills of consumerism on an international scale and, like “Running the Numbers I,” the images are photographic mosaics.

“E Pluribus Unum” (2010); this depicts the names of one million organizations around the world that are devoted to peace, environmental stewardship, social justice and the preservation of diverse and indigenous culture.

“Ushirikiano: Building a Sustainable Future in Kenya’s Northern Rangelands” (2011); chosen for the third Prix Pictet Commission to document a sustainability project, Jordan went on a 12-day exploration and 1,000-mile safari in the Nakuprat-Gotu Conservancy in northern Kenya, a place known for elephant poaching. There, a confederation of nongovernmental organizations works closely with tribal elders to create a sustainable way of life based on principles of environmental stewardship, wildlife conservation and peace.

More information

For more information about the artist, visit his website at http://www.chrisjordan.com/. Learn more about the WSU common reading program at http://commonreading.wsu.edu/overview/.

A selection committee is at work to evaluate nominations for the 2015-16 common reading book.


Karen Weathermon, WSU common reading, 509-335-5488, kweathermon@wsu.edu