Surfing the Spectacle

The Big Picture

I hate Chris Jordan.

Let me explain. This artist makes large prints of seemingly beautiful scenes or patterns. For instance, look at this gorgeous atmospheric photo of a forest in fog.


I could get lost in that. I did. But then I saw the title “Paper Bags.” What? Apparently the image shows 1.14 million paper bags stacked on top of each other to look like trees from a distance. That is the average number, a synopsis explains, of supermarket paper bags used every hour in the US in 2007. Excuse me?

I was staring into this piece like I would a Rothko. I was losing myself and finding myself again in a new light. But Chris Jordan wants to ruin my meditative experience with these irritating truths about mass consumption. Where does he get the nerve?

Let me show you other beautiful moments that Chris Jordan has destroyed. See this?


The nostalgic and wondrous magic of gentle snowfall captured by camera?

Wrong. “166,000 packing peanuts, equal to the number of overnight packages shipped by air in the U.S. every hour.”

Do art lovers really need to hear these depressing facts about consumerism and inorganic waste? Can’t we just behold the glory of enchanting abstractions?


For instance, gazing upon this gorgeous mandala, I felt like I was in some sort of temple, looking up at the great vaulted dome. I started having a profound spiritual awakening.

Then I read the title. “Oil Barrels.” The image apparently depicts 28,000 42-gallon barrels, which was the amount of oil consumed by the U.S. every two minutes in 2008. A supremely annoying statistic. Now my newly centered chi was back out of balance. It was that miserable Chris Jordan again.

But then, man, I was getting really into this one. The pattern and the colors were really letting me space out.


And suddenly my blissful reverie was rudely interrupted. I didn’t even mean to look at the title, I swear. But I inadvertently glanced over and saw the words — “Shipping Containers.” It turns out that each dot in this work of Jordan’s depicts one of 38,000 “containers processed through American ports every twelve hours”. Bastard! He’s making me consider the vast amount of materials, goods, money, and energy used in this constant process. And I hate him for that.

But this one is his worst offense.


This iconic image took me back to the first time I watched “Titanic.” Oh, I got caught up in the thrills of the story, and the timeless, tragic love of Jack and Rose. I leaned up close to see if I could spot the immortal lovers. That was a mistake.

I discovered that the big picture is made up of 67,000 smaller pictures of mushroom clouds. That represents the number of metric tons of ultra-radioactive waste in pools in the U.S.’s 104 nuclear plants.

What a buzz kill.


On his site, Jordan describes goes on to say how unstable, vulnerable, and over-filled these pools are. He writes, “The Brookhaven National Laboratory estimated that a calamity at just one of these waste pools in the U.S. could cause 138,000 American deaths and contaminate 2,000 square miles of our land.”

It’s clear that the facts Jordan spreads with his artwork are just as dangerous and disturbing as that of any radioactive accident. Chris Jordan is practically a domestic terrorist. He must be stopped.

[Guest Entry by Alex DeMoll with editorial assistance by SurfingtheSpectacle. You can find Chris Jordan’s website here. We urge you to avoid it.]

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