The eye-catching work of Brazilian artist Vik Muniz is a multi-layered mix of drawing and photography. His documentary ‘Waste Land’ was nominated for an Acadamy Award.
‘The unlikely union of the two media I prefer is what gives my work a contemporary character,’ according to Muniz. Although the overall atmosphere of his work is very surprising and – at times – thought-provoking.
The raw materials he uses in abundance are most often recognisable objects you can find in an every-day household. This grants his creations a strong narrative impact. The various shapes, sizes and textures collected in every piece tell an elaborate story.
A lot of his most celebrated pieces are based on famous artworks themselves. Take his tasty interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’, for example, which is made entirely of peanut butter and strawberry jam. Another one is Andy Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe, Muniz ‘painted’ with chocolate sauce.
‘On the whole, I prefer to work on a very low–tech level because there’s something quite redeeming in using the barest mechanics to produce an image,’ says Muniz. Lately, he’s been working predominantly with landfill materials, having completed series such as ‘Pictures of Junk’ and ‘Pictures of Garbage’ in recent years.
Using trash in a creative process seems a perfect fit for the artist. ‘The beautiful thing about garbage is that it’s negative; it’s something that you don’t use any more; and, moreover, it’s something you don’t want to see any more,’ he says. ‘So, if you are a visual artist, it becomes a very interesting material to work with because you are basically working with something that you usually try to hide.’
No matter what materials he uses, whether it is rubbish or sweets, the result is always something quite inventive. It’s fair to assume Muniz probably slaves over every detail to get each individual screw, speck of dirt and candy wrapper in the right position. Still he maintains that the appearance of spontaneity is absolutely vital to him.
‘Above all, I want to create the illusion that my work happened “by accident”,’ he says. ‘However, I don’t want to amaze the audience with my powers to fool them. I have been called an illusionist, but I have, in fact, always considered myself a twisted kind of realist.’
As much as he tries to inspire people with his art, he says his time spent making ‘Waste Land’ has greatly inspired him and made him more aware of the environment in a multitude of ways. The much-discussed documentary, filmed at the world’s biggest landfill near Rio de Janeiro, focused on the experiences of catadores – local garbage pickers who comb the piles of trash to track down recyclable items.
To this day, Muniz remembers them with a sense of awe. ‘Those people are amazingly gifted, let me tell you,’ he declares. ‘They can recognise 10 different types of plastic just by the noise it makes.’
During this cinematic feature, Muniz transformed various types of waste found at the Rio garbage site into ingredients for several different portraits. None other than the local catadores were asked to model for this series. Working from a nearby warehouse, Muniz ‘rented’ over 3600 kg worth of junk that was carefully screened and arranged on the ground by everybody involved.
Showing the people their portraits for the first time proved a particularly emotional moment. ‘You have no idea what this means to me,’ model Magna told Muniz. The man behind this unusual idea wasn’t exactly left untouched either.
Vik Muniz: ‘There aren’t many transformations bigger than a piece of garbage into a piece of art.’
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