Born in Brazil and living in Brooklyn, artist Vik Munoz believes that his decision to make art out of the garbage in Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Gramacho landfill is a way to “give back” to the homeland he left so many years ago. As he puts it, “What I really want to do is be able to change the lives of a group of people with the same material that they deal with every day.” What happens is only something like that. Muniz soon learns the process is not only unidirectional and that the pickers—whom he employs in the assembly as well—have their own ideas about what constitutes art and life. As he and the workers help the makers of Waste Land, the documentary takes on an unusual shape—a collaborative project that acknowledges tensions and mutual responsibilities, and examines the relationships between artists and subjects. While Muniz made his name by incorporating “everyday objects into his photographic process,” as the film puts it, now he recognizes the ways is subjects are not such “objects.” As he directs the pickers to put together giant mosaics made of garbage, portraits of themselves based on his photos of them, Muniz explains, that from a distance, bits and pieces of waste can tell a story, they show a face or allude to an experience. But just as the art indicates a range of ways of seeing, so too do conversations among Muniz and his film team members, who mull over the potential effects of their intervention.
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