Art and the” Man Made Continent of Trash”, a Photographer’s Fantastic Story.

Posted on May 9, 2009


  • Art and the” Man Made Continent of Trash”, a Photographer’s Fantastic Story.

I was in Seattle visiting my son and his girl friend and while waiting to go out and take in the sites of Seattle while they ran errands I read about Photographer Chris Jordan’s Photographic series “Running the Numbers One” in the Seattle Sunday Magazine. Jordan uses images to create matrix designs based on the numbers of things. An image of two large breasts popped off the page in juxtaposition to a detailed image of Barbie Dolls arranged in patterns that make up the larger view of the breasts. Jordan used 32000 Barbie Dolls to depict the number of breast augmentations preformed each month in the United States. When I got back to Montana I looked up Jordan’s website and found another one of his Fantastic Number Stories,


  • “Gyre” 2009 by Chris Jordan, an image of a Great Wave made out of 2.4 million pieces of plastic that represents the amount of plastic that enters the world’s oceans every hour.

The image, made from plastic debris collected from the Floating Continent of Trash in the Pacific Gyre, is part of, Running the Numbers II, Portraits of Global Mass Culture another photographic series by Chris Jordan.

  • The Pacific Ocean Gyre contains a floating continent of Plastic debris estimated to be twice the size of the Texas.

I first read about the Gyre in a story about Captain Charles Moore who was on his way home from a sailing trip, from Hawaii to Los Angeles when he decided to cut across the area, little traveled by seaman on his way back to California.  Moore explains the Gyre as a Spiral that moves in a clockwise rotation created by ocean currents. The natural spiraling current traps debris and holds them in place. Moore estimates that plastic started showing up in the 1950s and has grown to an alarming size, thousands of miles across. The plastic floats submerged just below the surface of the water, undetectable from satellite images because of the reflection caused by the water.

  • Garbage had historically broken down in the oceans until plastic came along.

Every year this new man made material increases its presence in the ocean and the Trash Continent in the Pacific Gyre grows. When I read the story, images of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty flashed in my mind about how the twisting currents of the Gyre worked on this manmade continent of trash. As I read more about the Pacific Gyre the more captivating, its relationship to the idea of entropy and natural systems is to me. This continent of trash is an unforeseen result of human behavior at work in the natural system. Un-natural materials discarded in a thoughtless manner now have grown to unimaginable levels that are affecting the eco system and sea life.

This Man Made Structure, this Continent of Trash is not only an extension of Smithson’s ideas about entropy it is at the center of the Chris Jordan’s idea of Global Mass Culture. Jordan helps us put into perspective the volume Global Mass Production through his imagery.

  • As an artist I am struggling with the concept of such a large structure whose mass rotates in a natural form, the spiral.

But by reflecting on whirlpools and eddy’s in the river where I live I can envision such a fantastic structure created by the forces of nature. The image of such things takes me back to the late 1970’s Robert Morris installations where he used cotton fibers to create seas of cotton waste from the textile industry with mirrors calculated to continuously, reflect the surface into an infinite image of volume and mass. Morris was part of a group of process artists. (Process artists were involved in issues attendant to the body, random occurrences, improvisation, and the liberating qualities of non-traditional materials such as wax, felt, and latex. Using these materials, they created eccentric forms in erratic or irregular arrangements produced by actions such as cutting, hanging, and dropping, or organic processes such as growth, condensation, freezing, or decomposition.) These ideas seemed radical in art, difficult to adjust our thinking too back in 1970s and 1980s. It clear now that the minimal and conceptual ideas of artists like Morris and Smithson is a reflection of the natural systems at work in our earth environment. Unintended or manufactured the only differences are intent; the results are mirror reflections of the outcomes, like Morris’s fiber and mirror installations and Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. Chris Jordan helps us to understand the Numbers by bringing perspective and Volume to the size of Global consumption.

  • Out there off the coast of the Untied States in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is the result of a random occurrence of the accumulation of man made materials creating a New Continent of Floating Trash; a Floating, spiraling continent of Our Own Making; which will exist for an immeasurable measure of time.

Jordan’s Photographic images illustrate the fact that this new continent is sure to grow in mass and volume daily. It will grow unlike the Hawaiian Islands that Captain Charles Moore sailed home from, created by volcanic activity. Our New Continent will grow because of Human activity directly related to Global Mass Consumption without thoughtful contemplation of unintended results and because of our inability to understand the abstract ideas of volume and mass, our lack of understanding the numbers.

Links About:  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Capt. Charles Moore Ted TV

Chris Jordan on his Photography Ted TV

Chris Jordan Website

Man Made Continent of Trash a Fantastic Story by David Eubank February 2008

Want to have some fun use Google Earth

Just type in “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” and see the size of our new continent and where it is located.