Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Well, there are some pictures that actually represent WAY more than words. Some are so arresting, they actually make you really stop and think – hopefully altering your future actions. Take, for example, the over 40 images created to depict how contemporary American culture uses everyday items.

The facts below, which are shocking, are displayed using actual objects that – when put together – make a larger image. For example:

  • An image of floating raindrops in the sky are actually packing peanuts depicting the 166,000 overnight packages shipped by air in the U.S. every hour.
  • An image of what looks like tree trunks are actually paper bags illustrating the 1.14 million brown paper supermarket bags used in the U.S. every hour.
  • A 3-D image of a maze are actually plastic cups representing the one million plastic cups used on airline flights in the U.S. every six hours.

When presented as a work of art, these numbers begin to have a realistic (and sickening) impact. The artist, Chris Jordan, says he hopes to “raise some questions about the roles and responsibilities we each play as individuals in a collective that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.”

Take a look at three of his impressive images:

Venus, 2011 60×103″ in one panel, and 8×13 feet in three panels
Depicts 240,000 plastic bags, equal to the estimated number of plastic bags consumed around the world every ten seconds.

Gyre, 2009 8×11 feet, in three vertical panels
Depicts 2.4 million pieces of plastic, equal to the estimated number of pounds of plastic pollution that enter the world’s oceans every hour. All of the plastic in this image was collected from the Pacific Ocean.

Three Second Meditation, 2011 44×44″ and 60×60″
Depicts 9,960 mail order catalogs, equal to the average number of pieces of junk mail that are printed, shipped, delivered, and disposed of in the U.S. every three seconds.

If you go to his website and look through the galleries, you will find the images interactive. It’s fascinating and covers topics from hunger to pollution to animal extinction.

Since 2006, Running the Numbers has been on display all over the world in numerous museums. Here is a complete list of the places it has been. Keep watch to see if it will be anywhere near you anytime soon. This is just too amazing to not see in person, if you have the chance.

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