Views of the agglomeration
Vik Muniz is a “critical mass artist” who offers us new interpretations of assembled entities. According to him, composite elements are not dependent on the whole: they move, mutate and are recycled. The same can be said of São Paulo, which can only ever be truly understood when set against Rio de Janeiro, its contrasting counterpart.
Aspects of Vik Muniz’s work bear some resemblance to the techniques of the impressionists. Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne and Camille Pissarro used delicate touches of colour to compose works with indistinct edges, giving hazy impressions of a reality that is actually more real than the reality we know. Vik is a reverse impressionist.
For him, the composition simply supports the composite parts, rather than the other way round. Instead of continually adding shapeless forms to create a whole, he subtracts them one by one and gives them a new shape of their own. “Take something you think you know well. After I deconstruct it, you will realise that you have been looking at it without ever really seeing it properly all this time. It is about mental reconstruction, a way of upending optical illusions and repairing reality.” Vik’s most recent project was filmed by the director Lucy Walker to create “Waste Land”, which has won more than twenty awards worldwide. The project, located at Jardim Gramacho, the world’s biggest landfill site, offers a good illustration of Vik’s artistic process.
Choosing to renew.
In this derelict suburb of Rio de Janeiro, 25,000 people make a living recycling rubbish. Vik Muniz persuaded several of these untouchables to express themselves through art. These people have a very acute awareness of the environment: although they are themselves considered “irretrievable” as it were, they have chosen to live on the fringes of society rather than as outlaws. This project finally gave them an opportunity to “reclaim themselves”, so to speak. “They have no relationship with art and have never opened a monograph or attended a lecture on Caravaggio, yet they have some sense of the aesthetic. Beauty is crucial for reproduction and it can be seen everywhere,” says Vik, pointing to a photo of a magnificent wading bird with perfect plumage, which has made its home in a dump. Recycling is an attack on the natural order because it introduces mobility and allows for renewal. There is no doubt that living in a city means you see nothing but duality, or even paradoxes, in the world. Urban thought challenges the agglomeration.
An airborne city.
Vik has two cities in his life: his city of birth, São Paulo, and his adoptive home, Rio de Janeiro. The first is Brazil’s economic centre, the other its emotional heart. The former is more urban than Brazilian, the latter more Brazilian than urban. São Paulo is an airborne city that never touches down, Rio is an ocean-washed beach. Rio is Brazil as the world likes to think of it, while São Paulo is the world as seen by Brazil. Rio is a playground to its own inhabitants, who are known as “Cariocas”, and a foreign land to those from São Paulo (“Paulistas”). Rio is a caricature of itself; it lives off its stereotypes and is serious about having fun with them. In São Paulo, they ask how you earn your living; in Rio they want to know how you enjoy spending it. A Paulista will feel guilty about hours spent idly, while a Carioca will shrug innocently. São Paulo has an industrial simplicity and a love of a job well done, while Rio heads directly for the beach. São Paulo, the great international port of South America, is built at a distance from the tempting shores of the Atlantic, whereas central Rio embraces the coastline. In Rio de Janeiro, every beach towel is a neighbourhood and the rallying point for a clan. Social groups are dictated more by your preferred sunbathing spot than by your accent, behaviour or dress sense. Meetings, whether for business or pleasure, are so defined by this intolerant geography and clique mentality, that a British Officer’s Club would seem positively democratic in comparison. Local celebrities don’t mix with the wannabe silicon stars, who avoid the mothers with children, who in turn avoid the cross-dressers. The latter refuse to be seen with the bronzed youths, who turn up their noses at the surfers, and so forth…
São Paulo nightlife.
Love Story is a club where secrets are unveiled under open skies, breaking with São Paulo’s closedyet- open atmosphere. Club nights are wild, with a fascinating, feline and Felliniesque atmosphere. Until 4 a.m., it is simply a club with green laser lights streaking across the darkness. But as dawn begins to break, it becomes a refuge for the dregs of society, ladies of the night and jilted beauty queens, all searching for the loves of their lives in vain. Artists put on exhibitions in São Paulo because this is where it all happens. “I go there regularly. Sometimes, I only stay an hour and then need five days to recover.” Rio may be a Mecca for all those obsessed with appearances, but São Paulo Fashion Week is the only international Brazilian fashion event. Here, the international influence, mainly European, is as apparent as in Buenos Aires. The two most stylish restaurants in the most well-to-do part of town are the Fasano and Emiliano hotels, both of which offer excellent Italian menus, while “Beirut”, a sandwich chain opened by Lebanese immigrants, has become part of São Paulo culture in much the same way as Belgian Waffles are deemed to come from New York. The Japanese community has also settled in very well, and some restaurants imitate the all-you-can-eat churrasqueira replacing the meat with makis. Attentive waiters watch like auctioneers on the lookout for the merest signal that you want to bid for some extortionate item, or in this case, that you want a free refill. The São Paulo dialect is a hot-headed outburst: the city has such an appetite that its own words come out half-gobbled. Rio speak is more free-fl owing: it undulates and slips through the fingers. Rio knows how to drink, São Paulo how to eat.
Text: Julien Bouré
Photography: Jean-Claude Amiel