There was a movie that played at Hot Docs called Reporter. It was about Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times columnist who globetrots to the sites of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters in an effort to provide original reporting that will draw attention to crises of which very few people are aware. Most interestingly, Kristof stays up to date on all the latest psychology literature on the subject of compassion; he is obsessed with crafting stories that will move his readers to action. Anyone can write something that will prompt people to respond “oh, that’s a shame” before moving on; it takes a special talent to rouse a readership to demand change or intervention or support. What has been concluded from various experiments is that humans’ innate capacity for sympathy is extremely limited: we are more likely to be affected by the suffering of an individual than that of a group. Kristof therefore tends to focus on very particular tales of one person’s exceptional affliction.
At the other end of the spectrum is photographer/artist Chris Jordan, whose Running the Numbers series overwhelm with their macro depictions of the extent of global (but especially American) waste and consumption. The point is not to elicit compassion but rather comprehension of the magnitude of our society’s footprint. What Edward Burtynsky does for industrialization, Jordan does for consumerism; where Burtynsky shows what’s left of the landscape, Jordan shows what’s taken away.
The British theatre troupe Stan’s Cafe (the latter word of which is to be pronounced monosyllabically) carves their own space in between the micro of Kristof and the macro of Jordan. Their art show Of All the People in All the World, running at Harbourfront Centre until 7 p.m. today and then from 11–6 on each of Saturday and Sunday, explores contrasts of scale. Each grain of rice represents a single person: sometimes one will be by itself, sometimes they will be in stacks of hundreds of millions. Of All the People illustrates a regularly rotating and constantly updated gallery of statistics, from the global to the local, forcing us to ponder where we fit in as individuals, as communities, as cities, as countries, and as citizens of the world, and how we relate to each other in each of those roles. Sometimes the masses are beyond comprehension; other times they are so specific and immediate that you can put faces on each grain.
Above, we present some of our favourite displays.
All photos by Jonathan Goldsbie/Torontoist.