Lucy Walker

Posted by fayefaye on October 31, 2011
Oct 312011

Waste Land (2010) – Official Trailer [HD] – YouTube.

The impetus to help is a sentiment that many people, especially Americans, experience when acknowledging the disparity that fellow human beings face throughout the world. There exist gaps between American standards of living and human rights in comparison to many other countries. People respond to these inequalities in different ways—volunteering, going on missionary trips, and sending money to charity organizations are just a few examples of involvement. Artistic intervention is also used to address these issues.

Despite well-placed intentions, however, the notion of “helping” others can be quite the loaded subject. Perspectives are challenged, calling into question the definition of the word help.

  • “Who are we to intervene? Who says these people want or even need our help?”
  • “How can we make sure that our intervention does not further create complications in this crisis situation?”

Especially when interventions become cross-cultural:

  • “Will these people interpret this intervention differently than we do? Could this potentially be offensive?”

Regardless of these questions, many factors influence the ultimate decision to intervene. In some cases of crisis and emergency, something must be done, no matter what.

Constituents of the Zones of Emergency class are no novices to these conversations. We have grappled with these very questions since the beginning of the course. Considering the sensitive nature of the 3-11 disaster, it has been necessary that we contend with these questions and explicitly define our motivations, target audience, and intentions surrounding the final project. In regards to this preliminary methodology, Lucy Walker’s Waste Land serves as an excellent example of how to effectively use art as a tool for both documentation and social transformation, two objectives we would like to fulfill with our project as well.

Lucy Walker is best known as the director of the feature-length documentaries Devil’s Playground (2002), Blindsight (2006), Waste Land (2010) and Countdown to Zero (2010). In Walker’s seminal documentary Waste Land (2010), many of the aforementioned questions are activated and confronted. Waste Land follows the everyday lives of catadores, a community of people who sift through trash for recyclable materials in Jardim Gramacho the world’s largest landfill in Rio de Janeiro. Famous artist Vik Muniz works with a group of catadores to create and sell art made from items they collect, inspiring both artistic and social transformation.

Jardim Gramacho

At the inception of the project, Muniz and his associates grappled with the same questions. Walker captures these intimate dialogues where Muniz finally decides that it is appropriate to intervene using his artistic skills; he attempts to change the lives of a group of people using the same materials that they use everyday.

One of the methods in which Walker and Muniz approached the Waste Land project is by changing the dimensions of their point of view, both figuratively and literally. Muniz and the catadores worked on a large scale by appropriating famous images (such as The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David) and reconstructing them bit by bit using recycled materials. Looking at the whole, each completed artwork looks similar to the original image, but looking closer reveals the various kinds of waste that people produce (and other people live in). In the documentary, Walker frequently adopts this theme, projecting a bird’s-eye view of Jardim Gramacho followed by a close up of people sifting through the trash. Where one shot focuses on the whole, the next captures the smallest of details, often in the form of a plastic bottle.

The Death of Marat – Vik Muniz