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We Can Hardly Contain Ourselves: New Art from Jenny Odell

Jenny Odell is a master of manipulation—the manipulation of perspective. It’s impossible to look at her latest edition, Shipping Containerswithout reevaluating the world around you.

Shipping Containers by Jenny Odell
8"x8" ($24) | 11"x11" ($60) | 16"x16" ($240) | 24"x24" ($600)

The subject of Jenny Odell's eleventh edition is Shipping Containers: scores of them, systematically arranged like a disjointed cluster of colorful pixels, or an extremely complex game of Tetris. The resulting image is an incredibly detailed collage that, for all its intricacy, feels unified along common lines.

As with many of her editions, the focal point of this piece is a humble member of an often overlooked family of infrastructural elements that underlay our everyday. Whether we’re talking waste ponds, parking lots or industrial buildings, Jenny seems to have made it her mission to shine the spotlight on the stagehands—to draw attention to the myriad fixings and frameworks of the built environment that make it possible to plug in your coffee pot, or get garden tools from Taiwan delivered to your doorstep in 5 days.

That band of unsung heroes includes Shipping Containers. These tough, sealed steel boxes are either twenty or forty feet long and around 9 feet high. There are over 20 million of these colossal containers in the world, carrying everything from stuffed animals to Volvos. They are endlessly en route across the open ocean on cargo ships, the workhorses of the shipping world and some of the largest vessels on the sea.

Jenny excavated each image in Shipping Containers from the enormous athenaeum that is Google satellite view. Aerial images allow Jenny to assemble these titans of transport in a way that makes them seem super small. They’re tiny building blocks occupying tidy sectors within a larger, orderly square—which will occupy another rectangle in the form of a picture frame, and likely yet another rectangle when it’s placed on your wall. It’s rectangle Inception, if you will. It’s also a reminder that these structures are just one wee piece of the global economic infrastructure, one with an integral role in international trade.

That old adage, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts", certainly rings true in Jenny’s work. Her compositions bring out the beauty in barges, basketball courts, and in this case the clunky, functional tools of freight. In looking down on them from above, it reminds us to appreciate the vulnerability and fortuitousness of our fancy modern life.

With art for everyone,
Team 20x200