In the 2010 documentary film Waste Land, directed by Lucy Walker and co-directed by João Jardim and Karen Harley, Brazilian-born and Brooklyn-based visual artist Vik Muniz travels to the Jardim Gramacho landfill outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There, he creates works of art out of material from the landfill with the help of several catadores, or pickers, who work there. Though Muniz’s visual artwork and Walker’s film both form an aesthetic of garbage by making trash the material most central to their work, their redemptive impulses should be questioned, and their use of garbage aesthetics analyzed. Their work simultaneously takes part in and falls short of the political goals of this aesthetic, namely, to focus both visual and political attention on the inequalities faced by marginalized people, places, and materials. In reading Waste Land for the ways in which it both embraces and shirks garbage aesthetics, I will suggest how this aesthetic approach can help interrogate the limitations and possibilities offered by the theorizations of the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, and Chthulucene they intersect with, calling attention to their political and aesthetic qualities.

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