Sunday 6/10: Waste Land and Shrimp

Still from Waste Land

I was expecting Waste Land to be a gritty expose on how wasteful societies are and how destructive systemic inequality is. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the filmmakers didn’t feel the need to pontificate about this, taking it as read that we got the message about garbage and allowing us to get to know the funny, smart, fascinating people working around it.

I’m not shocked and horrified by the fact that some people make their living as trash/recyclable object pickers, though I get the feeling that I’m expected to be. This has been a profession as long as there have been stationary agricultural societies, possibly longer. My cold economist’s heart is warmed by the notion of squeezing every bit of utility out of an object. My artistic side appreciates the possibility of change and rebirth for objects. It’s dangerous, messy work, and I’m against children working in those conditions, but I appreciated that the adults featured in Waste Land were mostly aware and proud of what they were doing and working to improve their conditions.

There was an interesting moment when Muniz explained the way people view paintings and other works in art galleries to the workers he’d hired to assist with constructing the images from recyclable objects. He imitated the motion of a viewer and explained, “They get close, they see the material. They move away, they see the image. […] The moment when one thing turns into another is really magical.” I do this, and it is magical to discover a few different ways of seeing the same work.

Muniz has made a career out of juxtaposing materials and subjects that one wouldn’t normally expect to fit together. That moment in which you realize that you’re looking at a Mona Lisa made of chocolate syrup, or a photo of a strong, complex worker made of recyclables is what he seeks. Watching Waste Land helped me clarify that I wanted to create a work out of surprising materials that reflect where I’m from and what I want people to consider when they’re looking at my tiny creature.

I’ve known since Friday that I want my tiny creature to be a methane-eating alien from Europa. The only creatures we know about that consume methane are deep-sea bacteria, but the form of a bacterium does not strike me as the sort of heroic symbol I want to rally around. Yes, bacteria are the ones actually doing the things I want my superpowered creature to do, but multicellular organisms have more fun—and allow for more opportunities to incorporate local and natural materials.

I’ve realized that the only form that makes sense for my superpowered tiny creature is a shrimp. I think that the thing that sealed the deal for me was rereading my previous post on my tiny creature’s superpower and realizing that half of the post was about different kinds of shrimp, without my having any real intention of making the post about shrimp. I want the shrimp of Kentucky’s caves, the Gulf of Mexico, and salty puddles around the world to be able to defend themselves.

Black dust that inspires the insides of my shrimp

It’s been storming outside for almost the entire time I’ve been home, so I was inclined against going out hunting for materials for my tiny creature sculpture until after things dried out a little. I still went exploring toward the end of the storm, and realized that the edges of magnolia leaves remind me of shrimp tails. Pine straw may wind up functioning as veins or antennae. I’d like to use some sort of plastic to convey the translucent sort of armor shrimp have. Coal may come in somewhere.

Fins and antennae


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