Saturday, January 12, 2013

Vik Muniz's Wasteland (2010)

I watched the documentary Wasteland not once but twice last week, which focused on a multi-year project by the Brazilian artist/photographer Vik Muniz.  Muniz ventured into the largest landfill in the world, on the edge of Rio de Janeiro.  Getting to know the Catadores (Wasteland's website defines the Catadores as "self-designated pickers of recyclable material") who work in the dump, Muniz followed a group of them and created portraits of them using recyclable material from the landfill to auction off in Europe.  All of the proceeds from the auction went to the Catadores union, the ACAMJG.

Wasteland was a really incredible documentary.  Muniz has become an uber-successful artist over the last decade, and for him, this project was a way of going back to his roots.  As a city, Rio de Janeiro is characterized by its disparities between the rich and the poor.  Muniz himself grew up lower-middle class in São Paulo and supported himself by working in American grocery stores before his career took off.  Wasteland gives the viewer a glimpse of a project that not only is a powerful and effective collaboration with a community of workers, but it showed the power of art to create lasting social change and empower marginalized groups.

Jackson Pollock in chocolate syrup!

The child of a plantation worker drawn in sugar.

Predictably, I'm pretty attracted to Muniz's work that involves food and portraiture, which is very similar in spirit and approach to some of my own work.  It is also similar in that it draws on the tactile/formal parallels between disparate objects.  Muniz began his career as a sculptor, and even though his work is photographic, his process of making the images is more akin to drawing or sculptural processes.  Each of the images included in this post were created on the ground and photographed from several feet in the air.  For more on Muniz's process, check out his really great TED talk, which can be found here.

Images, from top:

The Gypsy Magna, Pictures of Garbage Series, 2009/10
Action Photo (After Hans Namuth), 1997
Valentine - The Fastest, from "The Sugar Children Series," 1996

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