‘Waste Land’ Explores Artist’s Use of Garbage to Transform Lives in Brazil
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‘Waste Land’ Explores Artist’s Use of Garbage to Transform Lives in Brazil

bjbjLULU JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight,
another in our Economist Film Project series. Tonight’s film, “Waste Land,” follows artist
Vik Muniz from his studio in New York to the world’s largest garbage dump in his native
Brazil. There, Muniz examines the lives of garbage pickers who sift Rio de Janeiro’s
refuse in search of recyclables. He then creates portraits of the workers using the very materials
they have collected, and, ultimately, photographs of those portraits are exhibited in galleries.
The directors are Lucy Walker, Joao Jardim and Karen Harley. Here’s an excerpt. VIK MUNIZ,
artist: Right now, I’m at this point in my career that I’m trying to step a little bit
away from the realm of fine arts, because I think it’s a very exclusive, very restrictive
place to be. What I really want to do is to be able to change the lives of a group of
people with the same material that they deal with every day, and not just any material.
The idea I have for my next series is to work with garbage. When you talk about transformation,
you know, this being the stuff of art, transforming material and idea, I don’t know. This is the
beginning of an idea. I just have the material, and I have to go after an image. Hey, Fabio
(ph). MAN: Yes? Hey. VIK MUNIZ: So, did you have a chance to look at that garbage thing?
MAN: Yes. Check the link I just sent you. On YouTube, there’s a video that was shot
at this place. It’s called Gramacho, Jardim Gramacho. It’s the biggest landfill in Rio.
And they receive the trash from all the Rio area. VIK MUNIZ: What are the dangers working
in a place like this? MAN: Well, first of all, the place is surrounded by favelas owned
by the drug traffic. And I think the stability of the people themselves, they are all excluded
from society. Some stay there overnight or the whole week. It’s going to be hard. VIK
MUNIZ: So do you think it is too hard? MAN: No, no, because I think it would be much harder
to think that we are not able to change the life of these people. And I think we are.
So I think it’s worth a try. VIK MUNIZ: My experience with mixing art with social projects
is that that is the main thing, is just taking people away for — even if it is for a few
minutes, away from where they are, and showing them another world, another place, even if
it’s a place from which they can look at where they are. You know, it just changes everything.
I want this to be an experience of how art could change people, but also, can it change
people? Can it — can this be done? And what would be the effect of this? MAN (through
translator): What’s really impressive is that it’s the largest landfill in the world. MAN
(through translator): Yes, it’s the largest landfill in terms of the volume of trash received
daily. MAN (through translator): The pickers take out 200 tons of recycled material per
day from the landfill. That’s equivalent to garbage produced by a city of 400,000 people.
MAN (through translator): Amazing. MAN (through translator): Yes. That’s why the pickers are
really important to the landfill, because they help increase its capacity. MAN (through
translator): Does all of Rio’s trash end up here? MAN (through translator): Seventy percent
of Rio’s trash ends up here and 100 percent of the closest suburbs. MAN (through translator):
So the garbage from the millionaire’s mansion mixes with the garbage from the poorest favela?
MAN (through translator): For sure. MAGNA DE FRANCA SANTOS, Rio de Janeiro (through
translator): Don’t put this on TV. I will die. (LAUGHTER) MAGNA DE FRANCA SANTOS (through
translator): I first came here almost a year ago. My husband became unemployed. And we
had to pay the bills, keep the household going, support my son. We would get on the bus, and
people would go like this. (SNIFFING) (LAUGHTER) MAGNA DE FRANCA SANTOS (through translator):
It got to the point where I would say, excuse me, madam, but do I stink? Do you smell something
bad? It’s because I was working over there in the dump. It’s better than turning tricks
in Copacabana. I find it to more interesting and more honest. It’s more dignified. I may
stink now, but when I get home, I will take a shower, and it’ll be fine. But it’s disgusting.
It’s easy for you to be sitting there at home in front of your television consuming whatever
you want and tossing everything in the trash, and leaving it out on the street for the garbage
truck to take it away. But where does that garbage go? MAN: So good. MAN: Yes, I love
it, too. MAN: This is super strong. This is super strong. I think this is very nice, too.
VIK MUNIZ (through translator): Everyone who goes to a museum, goes up to a painting, and
then they stop and start to go like this. Have you seen this? Everyone does it. They
go like this, and then they go back, maybe take a little step back. And they see the
image. Let’s imagine it’s a beautiful landscape with a lake and a man fishing. They look and
see the man fishing, and then they lean in an everything vanishes and becomes paint.
They see the material. They move away and see the image. Then they get closer and see
the material. They move away and see the idea. They get closer and see just the material.
MAN (through translator): Since we’re pickers, we just see recyclable materials. (LAUGHTER)
MAN (through translator): I bet you get people to stay much longer at your exhibits than
anyone does. They spend so much time looking at the image, because then they’ll see the
ladder, the piano. They’ll look at everything. They’ll spend hours looking at the same picture.
VIK MUNIZ (through translator): The moment when one thing turns into another is the most
beautiful moment. A combination of sounds transforms into music. And that applies to
everything. That moment is really magical. Try and make it gradually darker from here
to here. Does that make sense? Good work, everyone. JEFFREY BROWN: The photos that Muniz
made were sold at auction, and Muniz donated the proceeds, $250,000, to the garbage pickers.
“Waste Land” is being screened at film festivals. You can find a link on our website for a list
of dates and cities. And to learn more about the Economist Film Project and to submit your
own film, head to film.economist.com. hbf urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
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State urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags place JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight:
another in our Economist Film Project series Normal Microsoft Office Word JEFFREY BROWN:
And finally tonight: another in our Economist Film Project series Title `~jq Microsoft Office
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