An Artist’s Perspective On a City’s Choice

Chris Jordan spoke about the state of his work, American culture, and our planet. | Photo by Allan Lasser
Chris Jordan spoke about the state of his work, American culture, and our planet. | Photo by Allan Lasser

Since the tragic attack on Monday, people around the world and members of Boston have poured out their support for the victims of the tragedy and the city itself. Sayings like “Boston Strong” and hashtags like #bostonstrong and #bostonpride have punctuated the city’s recovery from the attack. However, since the FBI first released photos of the suspects, the rhetoric surrounding the attack has changed. Now, these same people are not just concerned about uniting and supporting a grieving city, but about finding those responsible and bringing them to justice.

Chris Jordan, an artist and environmental activist from Seattle, discussed the choice we now face at a lecture he gave last night as Boston University’s Alternative Visions/Sustainable Futures program. During his lecture, Jordan discussed grief, hopelessness, action, healing, and explained how:

The intention behind an act of terrorism is to place fear and hatred into our hearts. If we fall for it we all end up hating somebody, wanting revenge, and feeling that sort of dark desire to conquer evil. If we can contain the feelings that we have, if we can realize this is not an evil that came to us that needs to be battled against, it’s a tragedy that happened.

In other words, if the attackers come into custody, we could act out of fear and anger against them. Or, we could turn our cheek and rally around slogans instead of suspects, community instead of crime.

He came to BU to discuss his work documenting the negative effects of mass consumerism. Jordan’s most recent project documents albatrosses on Midway Island who have died from swallowing bits of plastic that come from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. His photographs from Midway Island show dead baby birds, decomposing around the nondegradable plastic that piled up in their stomach until it choked them to death.

Jordan said it wasn’t until he came to Boston that he saw a connection between social disasters like terrorist attacks and environmental issues like what is happening to the albatrosses. “It seems to me that they both offer us an opportunity for grieving,” he said. “Grief is about connecting to something lost.” As a result of the Boston Marathon attack, Jordan said we not only suffered the loss of human lives, but lost the sense of safety in the city we love.

Now, Jordan said we can choose how to respond to the events of the marathon. He said we can let our sadness turn into fear and hatred toward the person or people responsible, or we can grieve, honoring who and what we have lost by letting it connect us to each other.

Some people have named that Boston Strong. Jordan calls it love.

Whatever it is, it lies before us as an alternative to the hell-wishing hatred that is sure to well up against whoever is found responsible for Monday’s tragedy. It will be poured into conversations, articles, Facebook and Twitter feeds just like we poured out words of strength and courage in the days before we had someone to blame.

Chris Jordan was not on Boylston Street when the bombs went off, and he’s not from Boston. That being said, his thoughts on how we react to tragedy are worth considering, especially as we get closer to identifying those responsible.

About Jake Lucas

Hi there I'm Jake. I'm a journalism major/environmental policy and analysis minor originally from the suburbs of Chicago. I'm interested in all kinds of science, politics and economics. I also like bears, singing and podcasts. If you have any questions, tips or just want to shoot the breeze, email me at Or, find me on Twitter @JakeDLucas.

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