Brazil’s Vik Muniz: You Can’t Pin Him Down


Brazil's Vik Muniz: You Can't Pin Him Down

Worst Possible Illusion, a documentary on Brazilian artist Vik
Muniz, takes us on a whimsical world-hopping journey. We
watch him construct dazzling works of art that fool the eye.
His photos test
our notion of the representation of
reality commonly associated with photography.

by:
Abbe Harris

One of the art world’s rising stars—the young Brazilian Vik Muniz—is hard to categorize. He’s a photographer and
sculptor as well as a self-proclaimed magician whose work has been called fresh, witty and exhilarating. His recent one-man
show at the Whitney Museum of American Art and his photography book
Seeing is Believing (which made both The New
York Times and the Village Voice’s Top Ten lists of 1999) solidified his reputation and a documentary on his life and art
called Worst Possible Illusion: The Curiosity Cabinet of Vik
Muniz has been picked up by PBS’ Independent
Lens series for an airdate of Tuesday, October
14th at 10 pm (check local listings) in conjunction with Latino Heritage Month. It was
directed by Anne-Marie Russell who spent over a year and a half on the road with the artist in making the film.

Worst Possible Illusion takes us on a whimsical world-hopping journey while we watch Muniz construct dazzling
works of art that fool the eye: sculptures of wire that look like line drawings of flowers; paintings made of thread that resemble
charcoal drawings; portraits made of chocolate syrup (specifically Bosco, Muniz’ preferred brand); and sugar on black paper that
creates haunting portraits of the faces of the Caribbean children who work on plantations harvesting sugar cane.

Muniz’ photographs test our notion of the representation of reality commonly associated with photography in
different ways. In working with these non-conventional materials, Muniz transforms these items into what he calls
"photographic delusions." At first these images appear to be familiar or sometimes commonplace; however, a closer look reveals that
the photographs are actually created from this variety of unusual materials. This process of creating photographs challenges
our common definition of photography.

Muniz, born in 1961 in San Paulo, grew up under harsh political regimes in Brazil and learned early on that the
safest way to communicate was through coded language. As a child he became fascinated with image and perception and the
role of the magician and his work embodies the notion that appearances may be deceiving. "I don’t think art started when a
caveman drew a picture on a wall," says Muniz. "I think art started the moment man could see something in something else."

Muniz discovered his irreverent technique and talent for being what he calls a "low-tech illusionist" when
documenting his early artworks and sculptures. What interested him most were the representations of the objects themselves. "What
really fascinates me about the photographic process," he says, "is that it endorses the existence of things. A chocolate puddle
with the likeness of Freud becomes part of the same history as its notable subject. Photography reveals their true identity as objects."

In Worst Possible Illusion Muniz visits his 93 year-old grandmother in Brazil, whom he calls "the most important
woman in my life" and Chicago, his first home in the United States where he worked as a gas station attendant and supermarket
cart pusher. From there we journey to Arizona where he creates a gigantic bone "earthwork" in the desert while going to
extraordinary lengths to capture it on film.

It’s easy to see why Muniz is viewed in both photography and art circles as one of the most original and talented
artists to emerge from the 1990’s. Part Sesame Street, part Andy Warhol, Muniz uses charm, bulldozers, chocolate sauce and
chartered planes to create and explain his celebrated conceptual art. In addition to his show at the Whitney, Muniz represented
Brazil in the 2001 Venice Biennale. His personality can best be described as charismatic, even irrepressible, which makes him
the perfect subject for a documentary.

 

Abbe Harris is a publicist with Cara White Associates and can be reached at
abbepub@aol.com

 

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