23 March 2010

Minds of Mountainfilm: Interview with Artist Chris Jordan

Excerpt from The Conversation, 22 March 2010

'...I’ve spent the last seven years of my work focused on that question: what is the role of the individual in an overwhelmingly enormous and complex global culture? And maybe that’s actually another simpler question in disguise: “Do I matter?”

I think that’s one of the central questions facing humanity right now, that we each have to grapple with as individuals. What we decide internally, each one of us, adds up to a collective attitude that has unbelievable power. If people can feel that, if they look deeply into this question and find that they do matter, then they’ll figure out what to do next. It’s not up to me or anyone else to tell them.

Each of us is 1/6.7 billionth of the world’s population. That’s a really, really small number that’s very hard to come to terms with. The Green Movement and others posit the importance of the individual and individual efforts. They have all these beautiful quotes like Margaret Mead’s about never doubting the power of one person to make a difference.

I don’t negate the truth of that sentiment but I do think there’s another half of the picture that’s being ignored or obscured, at our peril. And that’s this feeling of not mattering. I think almost all of us carry that feeling – I know I do. Whether we acknowledge that or not, it’s there, as evidenced by our wasteful daily behaviors.

As an analogy, think of an old-fashioned gauge with a needle, that can either point left or right. On one side, the reading is: I matter. I’m a contributing, valuable member of the human community, and every detail of my life is important. On the other side, the reading is: I don’t matter. I can be however uncaring and wasteful as I want to because I’m too small to make any difference. My problem is that my needle jumps back and forth all the time.

I think the challenge is to get us to behave as if we matter, even when our needles point to the side that says we don’t matter. Because the truth is, our small behaviors really do add up. As proof, just look at the world we live in: it’s the product of hundreds of millions of people each behaving as if we don’t matter. The result is a catastrophe, which we have all participated in creating. And so it turns out, so far, that we all mattered without even realizing it. Each one of us really has made a difference, perhaps in a bigger way than we have the courage to admit to ourselves. I think once more people feel that, they’ll know what to do, or they’ll care enough to find out.

How do you see media – be it film, photography, art, etc. – serving as a catalyst for positive change?

We’re at a place right now where human culture has never been before – at the threshold of instantaneous global mass communication. It’s communication that takes many different forms, from phones to TV, NetFlix and streaming media, radio, the blogosphere, email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and so on. This mass connectivity is the key ingredient that many futurists believe will lead to the emergence of global collective intelligence. Which will lead, in turn, to conscious global, collective decision-making – something that hasn’t ever happened before. It’s one of the few things in the world that I’m optimistic about – the transformational power of media. But of course the power doesn’t lie in the media itself; that’s just a tool. The power lies with us...'

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