Friday, November 15, 2013

The Art of Chris Jordan and Alexis Rockman

"Unintended consequences."

Yep, I'm still talking about 'em.  Like I said yesterday, my discussions in the classroom over "unintended consequences" have been mostly over what happens when humans mess with the environment.  In taking a look at such consequences, I have been introduced to the work of two wonderful artists whose mission is to make us aware of just what we're doing to our world.  And they are doing it through art.

Meet Chris Jordan.  The art you see above is of course a rendition of Van Gogh's "Starry Night," but it is composed of millions of plastic lighters.  These lighters are discarded every day but they do not decompose.  Instead, they take their place as litter in our environment or inert space in landfills.  I saw a video of a TED Talk that Jordan gave over his art.  He is certainly passionate about his art and the message that he wishes to send with it.  Here is a statement from the artist as found on the link above:

“There is no Mount Everest of waste we can make a pilgrimage to and behold the sobering aggregate of our discarded stuff, seeing and feeling it viscerally with our senses. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the roles and responsibilities we each play as individuals in a collective that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible and overwhelming.”

One aspect of our wasteful tendencies that Jordan opened my eyes to was that of e-waste.  How many computer parts have I personally just thrown out in my lifetime?  I'd hate to quantify it, but Chris Jordan, in a way, has.  The following art installation is made entirely of hard drives and circuit boards people have simply thrown out:

It looks like a futuristic city as seen from above.  Better yet, it strongly resembles what George Lucas' FX team cobbled together to create the surface of the Death Star.  The reality is actually more frightening.  This art is representative of a "throw away" culture.  Something doesn't work anymore?  Costs more to have it repaired than to have it replaced, doesn't it?  So just pitch it.  Throw it away to where it will sit and never break down.

The second artist I encountered was Alexis Rockman.  Rockman paints images that are also representative of humanity's interfacing with nature, but more so in regard to how we're altering it.  Consider "Paradise Now":

Norman Rockwell and Salvador Dali got together one night after a bender and this painting is the vibrantly colored but bloated and repulsive offspring.  I say "repulsive" because I argue that in a way, that is the reaction Rockman is going for.  As he has stated:

"My artworks are information-rich depictions of how our culture perceives and interacts with plants and animals, and the role culture plays in influencing the direction of natural history.
The Farm contextualizes the biotech industry's explosive advances in genetic engineering within the history of agriculture, breeding, and artificial selection in general. The image, a wide-angle view of a cultivated soybean field, is constructed to be read from left to right. The image begins with the ancestral versions of internationally familiar animals, the cow, pig, and chicken, and moves across to an informed speculation about how they might look in the future. Also included are geometrically transformed vegetables and familiar images relating to the history of genetics. In The Farm I am interested in how the present and the future look of things are influenced by a broad range of pressures- human consumption, aesthetics, domestication, and medical applications among them. The flora and fauna of the farm are easily recognizable; they are, at the same time, in danger of losing their ancestral identities

Okay, "repulsive" might be too strong of a term, but if you're not at least thinking about the genetic modification of our food after viewing that painting, may I suggest that you look it over once more and this time with a slower, more critical eye?  Before you ask, no, I have no problem with the genetic modification of food.  I do not, however, believe anything Monsanto and other corporations are saying about how "safe and healthy" their products are.  In other words it's a good idea, but I'm very skeptical about those that are currently implementing it.

Maybe Alexis Rockman is too.  His art, along with Chris Jordan's, should not only make us think about what we're doing to our environment, but what the corporations we support are doing.  Not just the environment, but the food we're putting in our bodies as well.

In closing, here's a panoramic gem from Rockman called "Manifest Destiny" that should help put everything in perspective.

Maybe a bit too much effing perspective.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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