I just saw “Waste Land,” Vik Muniz’s 2010 documentary about the impoverished garbage pickers of the Jardim Gramacho landfill. At 321-acres, the open-air dump located just outside Rio is the largest landfill in Latin America. Muniz, a Brazilian artist who divides his time between Brooklyn and Rio, spent two years photographing the workers in tableaux from well known paintings and then used the portraits as the basis for massive collages made out of recycled materials collected at the dump. With help from pickers and assistants throughout the project, he photographed the collages, sold them at auction, and shared the money with the picker’s co-operative.
In the NY Times, Carol Kino wrote that Muniz has ambitions beyond the art world. “Something to do with alchemical transformation, not just of garbage into art, and art into cash, but also of people’s lives. In this he has been successful. Since the film wrapped, some of the catadores have found new jobs, and Mr. Muniz and the filmmakers have donated $276,000 to the cooperative, Mr. Ghivelder said, which has been used, among other things, to buy a truck and computers, found a library, provide capital funds for the organization and finance a small-business training program. (Another $50,000 from Mr. Muniz went to the catadores who posed for portraits.) The project also seems to have changed Mr. Muniz’s perspective on imagery. ‘The really magical things are the ones that happen right in front of you,’ he said. ‘A lot of the time you keep looking for beauty, but it is already there. And if you look with a bit more intention, you see it.’”
Watch this clip to get a sense of the project.
The film is available on Netflix.
And speaking of Brazil: I highly recommend “Senna,” a recently-released documentary about the legendary Ayrton Senna, a three-time (could have been four if it weren’t for a dubious disqualification from one of the races) Formula One champion from Brazil who died at 34 while competing in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. After I left the Landmark Sunshine Theater the other night, I saw a speeding motorcyclist swerve into a bike rider. The bicyclist, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, was thrown ten feet in the air and landed in a heap on the pavement. As the ambulance arrived and the police took statements from witnesses, the biker’s leg looked badly broken and blood poured from his head. A devastating night. I hope he’ll be OK. Wear your helmets and drive carefully.
Artists’ Choice/Mik Muniz curates “Rebus” at MoMA