The Idea of Plenty

The Idea of Plenty

One of the things I admire about photographer Chris Jordan's work is his attention to the shocking, collective lack of awareness we have about the effects of our consumerism. In his exhibition 'Running the Numbers', he adds creative impact to otherwise meaningless statistics by rendering elements of consumerism into art. In the image above, for example - called 'Over the Moon' - he used 29,000 credit cards (equal to the average number of personal bankruptcy filings every week in the US in 2010) to create his image. This link shows other ways in which he has artistically animated the reckless disposability of our Western culture - and if you click on the images on the link they will zoom in to reveal the individual credit cards, barbie dolls, plastic bottles and other detritus that is visually composed to seduce and then shock us into reflecting...

I have been reflecting on my own unconscious consumerism recently... After a road accident last year, I went without a car for a couple of weeks - and then realised that I did not miss it. A car simply was not essential to my lifestyle - although it felt confronting to admit to others that I was car-less! After paying for a TV licence while never watching TV, 2 years ago I decided to get rid of my television. I now notice how often I go to friends' houses and the TV is on in the background, while no-one watches - and yet I am surprised by the degree of consternation I am met with when I 'come out' as a TV-free householder! I've recently decided to sell my 6-bedroomed town house for a smaller place in the country, with a garden where I can grow my own food. Again, many of my friends are quizzical and accuse me of having a mid-life crisis! We seem to have been beguilded by the idea of plenty - that cooking more food than we need, or getting in to the car to go to the corner shop, or going large at macDonalds, is normal... As Jordan says of his work, "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."

In my corporate consulting, too, the underlying assumption is that growth is a right and an expectation. If we are not growing - and the metrics run all ways... in headcount, in turnover, in profitability, in geographic outlets - then something is wrong! Why do we hold on so tightly to this idea of plenty? Especially when the evidence is that the system is broken? What are we afraid of? And what is the nature of the conversation we need to be having as a society that connects with the intolerable beauty of Jordan's images?

Posted in General on Sunday, Feb 16th, 2014

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