What A Load Of Rubbish

OCA tutor India Ritchie reports: During my on-going research into dirt, a subject which greatly informs my art practice, I came across an excellent documentary on Brazilian artist Vik Muniz and his work with the litter pickers at the world’s largest landfill site in Rio de Janeiro. I was so moved by the film that I thought I would share it with you.

Shot over nearly 3 years, ‘Wasteland’ charts Muniz’s first steps onto the site, the tentative connections he makes with the workers or “catadores” (self-designated pickers of recyclable materials) and the subsequent friendships that develop, through to the work he creates with their help, using the very waste they sort through everyday, and the transformative effect the entire project has on the community.

Muniz is not the only artist working with waste. Well-known contemporary artists such as Gavin Turk and the collaboration of Tim Noble and Sue Webster have used waste in delightful, shocking and even comical ways, raising questions on the value of art and the effect of high levels of consumption on the environment. Another artist working with waste, but in the community as Muniz did in Rio de Janeiro, is Mierle Laderman Ukeles with her ‘Touch Sanitation’ project in New York, USA. Over 11 months the artist visited every sanitation district in New York and personally shook the hand of every sanitation worker, thanking them for “keeping New York City alive”.

‘Wasteland’ is not only an incredibly moving testament to how art or interacting with an arts project can benefit an entire community, but it is a striking example of how the perceived value of an object, such as a waste product, can be transformed with a little imagination and ingenuity. There is a great film about the art project here: http://www.wastelandmovie.com/index.html


  1. Stuart McQuade 22 November 2012 at 7:22 am

    I did a similar sort of thing for Digital Photographic Practice assignment 2. Rather than put our rubbish straight into the bin, I saved it all for one whole day and photographed it: bottles, half-eaten food, paper, you name it. Partly as an ‘ECO challenge’ to myself, partly to make people think, and also to see if I could present the rubbish in a way which looked artistic.

    Most of the photography students thought I was a little eccentric, though! It’s here if anyone’s interested: http://oca-student.com/node/58777

      1. Stuart McQuade 23 November 2012 at 8:09 pm

        Thanks for that, India! Very interesting to see how my work compared to that of a professional – the difference in lighting skills is huge. 😉

  2. Jennifer Wallace 22 November 2012 at 9:33 am

    For some lovely closer-to-home work, do have a look at Kevin Harman’s SKIP series of sculptural works. This is one of my favourites: http://www.kevinharman.co.uk/skip12.html I heard him talking on the radio about the process of making one of these – Friday night to Sunday night, and then watching the responses until the skip was moved on and away – brilliant! And some of them are very beautiful.

    1. Olivia Irvine 25 November 2012 at 9:50 pm

      I enjoyed the skips and also the hotel pieces. They had a fun process as well as an outcome. Some of the rest of his work I found a bit banal- one line visual jokes.

  3. michele Whiting 24 November 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Have you seen La Poubelle? if not it is a short film about walking through the streets of London during the time of the rubbish strikes in the 1970’s; shot by Felipe Ehrenberg- you may find it really interesting as social commentary/as a film that inhabits a slightly curious space more akin to the experimental filmakers associated with The London Co-Op. City as disorder/chaos through which we assume it’s order through familiarity.


    1. Olivia Irvine 25 November 2012 at 9:56 pm

      Fascinating. I found the commentary and sound exasperatingly irritating so watched it in mute.

  4. Olivia Irvine 25 November 2012 at 10:02 pm

    I once attended a day workshop in a scrapyard. It was run by a contemporary sculptor and cost all of £4 for the day. We had to bring our own tools and were allowed to use anything on the perimeter of the scrapyard (as these things were about to be destroyed) to make sculptures which would be exhibited there for a week. The scrapyard is a busy place because they also sell the better stuff which is housed in the centre so we were ensured a bit of an audience. It was enormous fun and quite a challenge.


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