Lucy Walker #2

Posted by Kristopher Swick on October 31, 2011
Oct 312011

I’d like to reflect on the readings and promotional material about WASTELAND in two ways: focusing on its tactical framing and its meaning/message.

Tactical Framing

As Faye has introduced, one of the central intricacies of any tactical intervention is its inevitable affect on the communities in which it intervenes. Many interventions are oriented towards affecting the subject community; perhaps the intervention is meant to raise awareness about an internal problem within a community or frustrate the inner-workings of a questionable institution. Other interventions are oriented towards raising awareness about a victimized community to outsiders that might have the ability to positively affect said community; many documentaries, such as those issue by Survival International, are used to garner interest or sympathy. Survival is an interesting case study, because several of their promotional films are about “Uncontacted Tribes,” produced with the express goal of not affecting the subject Tribe. Whether the films are successful in maintaining this distance is up to interpretation.

In her Director’s Statement, Lucy Walker makes conscientious mention of this issue, which she calls the “Observer’s Dilemma.” And she declares:

I don’t believe in objectivity. I observe the observer’s paradox every moment I’m filming. Your presence is changing everything; there’s no mistaking it. And you have a responsibility.

The attention she pays to this issue sustains the efficacy of her work. She makes no airs of objectivity, of removing herself from her subject. She writes that making the documentary should be as transformative for the subject as it is for the filmmaker. If done carefully, this transformation can be long-lasting and beneficial to both parties. Because she’s chosen an artist (Vik Muniz) that is intimately familiar with Rio de Janeiro (and Brazil) and has been working in the subject community for some time, I believe that her film is successful in maintaining this rigorous attention to context and agency. The intentions of her team are clearly delineated for members of the subject community and observers alike, so they become conscious and can benefit from the film and its narrative.


I am strongly drawn to the subject of this documentary. Waste is something every member of Modern society interacts with on a daily basis. It’s production and disposal are the subject of much legislation, billions in governmental and municipal budgets, and increasing public attention as activists and intellectuals rally to the sustainability battle-cry. As artists and architects, its an immediate concern in our work and research.

Personally, I struggle with the reality of waste in my existence: every day I consume and dispose, consume and dispose, endlessly. And I am aware of the substantial economic, social, and environmental impact of that behavior. I find myself intermittently trying to mitigate the impact of this behavior, but at the end of the day these changes create minimal affect; to truly alter the damage inflicted by this behavior, I would need to entirely detach myself from the infrastructural and societal mechanisms that sustain me. And this is a jump that is impossible to imagine.

I, therefore, appreciate WASTELAND’s tactical method of addressing this crisis: it creates meaning across a broader audience, which can accomplish substantial change with more modest but unified behavioral changes. Affected audience-members can also rally together and demand change from their legislators and governmental representatives, thereby causing change on a greater scale.


I’m excited to see the film and garner from it my own interpretation and reinvigorated dedication to both sustainability and conscientious tactical design.