Movies: Wasteland ****
Published 25/02/2011 | 05:00
Brazilian artist Vik Muniz has made his name by recreating famous works of art using everyday materials and even garbage. In 2008, he heard about a massive Rio de Janeiro landfill dump called Jardim Gramacho that provides a grim living to a small army of garbage sorters, or 'pickers', and began thinking about doing a project on them.
Muniz was himself raised in a poverty-stricken quarter of Sao Paolo before moving to America to establish, and when he returns to his homeland to visit Gramacho for the first time, he isn't quite sure what to expect. Instead of a team of shuffling wretches, however, he soon discovers that the pickers are a chirpy group of comrades who insist on taking pride in what they do.
They sift through almost 70pc of Rio's refuse in search of recyclable items, and are very modestly paid for it. Gramacho sits on the edge of the city proper: the pickers are viewed as untouchables, and many live in unimaginable squalor. Sometimes their work involves gruesome discoveries: dead babies, murder victims, various human bodyparts. And though they insist that none of it gets to them, the pickers lead fairly miserable lives.
When Muniz photographs them on site and in various classical poses, then magnifies the images on to a studio floor that the pickers decorate with odds and ends from Gramacho, art works are formed that promise to change their lives. The artist's idea is to open their horizons by giving them a glimpse of another life: all proceeds will be given to the pickers, but Muniz's profile will also expose them to the public gaze.
When they see themselves in celebrated artworks, the pickers almost invariably begin crying: only then do we find out how very little they thought of themselves.
Lucy Taylor's documentary gives us a glimpse of a desperate, marginal world, but Muniz's innovative project barely touches its surface.
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