E Pluribus Unum, 2010 24 x 24 feet, laser etched onto aluminum panels
Concept and design: Chris Jordan
Computing and design: Craig S. Kaplan, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Organizations database research: Paul Hawken
I came to the work of artist Chris Jordan quite by surprise.
Years ago, working in a new classroom, I was challenged to inspire my students to realize the full effect of their social interactions - much of which, at the time, were hurtful. In an effort to deepen their understanding of the magnitude of their actions, I went searching for data - figures so large and incomprehensible that the shear number of digits presented would leave the children spellbound, and incite them to change their behaviors. My attempt was to intellectually connect the results of our challenging classroom dynamics to the broader consequences of human action outside of school.
What I found was that, much like the films of Godfrey Reggio, so much can be said without words: it's the images themselves that tell the story, and more. I was reminded of the powerful simplicity of a Montessori impressionistic lesson. Could I, using an alternative medium, engender such an effect and thirst for more information?
My introduction to Jordan's work was through his mesmerizing and haunting series Running the Numbers, a look at consumption and excess in the United States. I was transfixed. Image after image left me speechless. As I collected these images and prepared them to present to my class, I was deeply moved - invigorated even - by what I was seeing.
What changed in me was that I, too, had to shift. I, as my students' guide, had to reflect as deeply as I was asking them to. What was it about my craft that was not yet aligning with my students' needs?
And I came to this: Our practice is our potential.
The last piece of Jordan's that I was introduced to further rooted this notion. In E Pluribus Unum Jordan "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." In this work I saw and felt the power of many doing what is right. As I repeatedly clicked on the initial image, I was transported through a dense and lacy spirograph to the realization that each of the strands was made from the names of groups striving to make the world a better place.
In this work, I had found the balanced perspective that I - and my students - needed. Yes, we were working through a hard time. And, yes, there were behaviors that needed to be highlighted and changed. As importantly, however, was the positive notion that change was possible and powerful.