Vic Muniz, the Brazilian artist and director Lucy Walker have produced an inspiring documentary pivotally engulfing the leitmotif, “to whom much is given, much is expected”.
Mr. Muniz, a photographer, born into a financially depressed family in Brazil has experienced a meteoric rise in the contemporary art scene; he relishes his fame while totally embracing his heritage, his levity and grace enchant all he encounters; elitism , guile not inherent in his DNA. In “Waste Land” he travels, and spends a year in the largest landfill in South America, Jardim Gramacho, a garbage dump of over 300 acres outside Rio. He befriends and employs the garbage pickers, cantadores; they select the used, discarded trash resulting in the finished work, we witness as their plight is purified, made sacred by the artistic process; a miraculous achievement, an emblem of man’s inimitable ability to change the world.
Vic Muniz, not unlike so many of today’s artists, uses nontraditional tools to create his works: discarded objects, euphemistically referred to as “found objects”: stones, plastic, paper products; he takes things away from their intrinsic purpose and tweaks the viewers sensibilities; chocolate syrup morphs into a Jackson Pollock abstract painting; peanut butter and jelly mimic Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”; diamonds, Liz Taylor. The idea of stepping away from the majesty of Renaissance Rules commenced with Picasso and Braque, carried further by Duchamp, Calder, Rauschenberg, Johns, Oldenburg, Long, Friedman; the crown of erasing the boundaries between high and low art belongs to Andy Warhol, the King who bulldozed the doors of pristine museums, demanding wall space, vitrines, pedestals , equal dotage and approbation for the mundane, everyday; affirmative action for Campbell Soup cans; worthy of sharing the light with “Cross” and Crown” art, centuries old.
In “The Waste Land” all those pathologically devoted to art history and its historic masters will be mesmerized to see morphing out of the “waste” of Rio, Jacques Louis David’s “Marat Sade”, Pablo Picasso’s or Balthus, standing young girl, Jean-Francois Millet’s “Sower” . The models, cantadores, imbued with incredulous power and dignity watch as their vicissitudes become virtues; their poverty, purity; ordinary, unphotographed lives, residing in a hallowed museum milieu. Muniz, the alchemist, has transformed to gold, what was ash, detritus, dust.
Even in sleep this exceptional film has lingered, resonated, warmed my spirits and recalled the poem by T. S. Eliot, “The Wasteland”:
“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish?”
The answer lies in “Waste Land”!