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The Face of Humanity

In 1995, I received an MFA in Illustration from ETSU in Johnson City, Tennessee. As part of this program, I developed an installation addressing the issue of the logrithmic growth of the human species, and its impact on the environment, culture and the lives that our children will live.

The exhibit has four parts. First, a timeline circles the gallery, showing the growth from 1 AD to the present time. The timeline continues around the 88 feet of gallery space, beginning with the population of about 200 million, which is the best estimate we have for the earth's population for thousands of years. It doesn't begin to increase until the 1700s, when we began to develop machines and find other sources of fuel to grow our food, to move goods and to heat our homes. It reaches 1 billion about 1850, increasing rapidly to 5.3 billion, at the time this piece was made. But the graph increases, and as we have just reached the 7 billion mark in the 17 years since this work was done, you can see that the graph could continue to increase until some sort of brake is put on this growth.

Malthus predicted that this would happen, and said that there are three controls on our growth: war, famine and disease. As a species, we have begun to have wars where fewer and fewer people are killed. Unlike the dreadful slaughter of whole generations of men in the American Civil War and World War I, we now have wars where many fewer lives are lost, though an increasing proportion is made up of women and children. We invented fertilizers and developed irrigation systems to increase food production, and we use giant machines to plant and harvest, rather than the back breaking labor of people. And we have vaccinations and medications to fight disease, to save many more children from disease and infirmities, and to prolong life well into old age.

Galllery view Gallery View 3  
Gallery View 2 Gallery View  
Final Time Line  

Here you can see the time line as the population increases. By stretch it out longitudinally, you see the impact of the growth of the last few hundred years.

The texture behind the graph is made of articles about population, birth control and family planning, as well as women's health issues. Superimposed are headlines from articles, short quotations, and images.

Below the timeline you can see an accordian book of over 200 pages, each with a postcard sent by a fellow artist with their thoughts on this issue. When closed, the book is about a foot thick. As the exhibit moved to various venues, more post cards were added, some by working artists and some by children.

Above the timeline is a series of faces. They begin with abstractions, representing mankind's lack of consciousness of his own role on the planet, and they change to portraits of real people, concluding with cartoon characters and robots. These are watercolors, and have been grouped in threes, sewn together with a border to form a pieced effect.

Calm Laugh Priest Corporate Day Care  
In the middle of the gallery, a dozen banners hang from the ceiling. Texts from minds profound are rendered on frosted Mylar with a brush, most in a classic Roman script, but one in a modern version with the weight of the letters and their spacing increasing as you reach the bottom. These banners are quite dramatic, and evoke the marble of ancient Rome on which the exploits of the caesars were carved as well as texts praising the Roman culture itself. The banners are 3x8 feet, and are quite dramatic, especially when back-lit.  
Cousteau Malthus banner  
Banner closeup

The banners became, for me, the most powerful part of this exhibit. Written in classical letterforms, they announced quite plainly to people what the problem is, and that it cannot not be ignored.

However, my work on this project led me to realize that we will not solve these problems by just talking about them among like minded people. World leaders must address these issues before our resources are gone, war has destroyed much of our livable habitat, and disease has wiped out not only many of our own species, but also the many with whom we share the planet.

ZPG close up ZPG Banner  
This installation was hung initially in the Slocumb Gallery at ETSU, and has also been installed in the Jennie DeWeese Gallery in Bozeman, Montana, at the international calligraphy conference in Edwardsville, Illinois, and in the Wilkes Art Gallery in Wilkesboro, NC. Parts of the exhibit have also been shown in a few other venues.  

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