Today, as TEDGlobal 2014 prepares to open, there’s a kind of hush on the streets. Brazilians are voting in a presidential election. TEDGlobal 2014 Fellow Mundano, a graffiti artist best known for his project Pimp My Carroça — which drew visibility to the vital role of waste pickers in Brazil and around the world by customizing their carts — took the event as a call to artistic action. Arriving early in Rio from Sao Paulo, he has spent the last few days building an art installation in the busy center of Rio to call attention to the waste involved in elections, the pervasive corruption of the political system, and the terrible problem of non recyclable waste in Brazil. We asked him to tell us about it.
Tell us about this action – what did you do, and why?
Brazilian elections generate a massive amount of waste. It’s all about money: campaigns give money to produce all these ads, and pay for citizens to promote them regardless of their political beliefs. So the streets of Brazil become choked with banners, posters, flyers, stickers, racks – none of which are recyclable. They will all go to landfill.
So I came a few days ago, and in Rio’s busy center of Largo da Carioca, I built a trash bin in the shape of the electronic voting booth. I then filled the bin with the ads themselves.
How did the public respond?
It’s funny — the first comment we got from the security guard was, “This is too small — it should be giant for all the trash they are producing.” A lot of people took photos, and these were posted to social media. And some people who work for particular candidates took their candidates’ materials back out of the bin, to prevent people taking photos of their candidate in the trash.
Some waste pickers rummaged through to try to find something of value — but only find politicians. In the past, I’ve written this message on the carts I’ve helped customize: “If corrupted politicians were recyclable, I would be rich.” I thought this message was great, but I have had a wastepicker say to me: “No, Mundano you are wrong. I won’t be rich because there are so many of them, the price goes down. They are worth less than cardboard!”
Is this something you often do, in other elections and in other cities?
Yes, for the past four election cycles, since 2008, I’ve been using election waste as material for art. I used take them home, change the messages, and put them back out on the streets. I’ve also built big installations. But this is the first time I’ve made something that is actually usable. I typically take such actions in Sao Paulo because I vote there, but when I realized I’d be in Rio for the elections this year – which are historical because there are more candidates with real chances, and no one knows what will happen – I thought it was the perfect moment.
But for every election, I use these ads to make something to get people to reflect on the corrupted political system, all the false promises, the awful waste.
Describe these posters – from what you say, they sound pervasive.
First, the posters really show only a face and a number. There’s no information on who these people are, or their main objectives. So it’s hard for people to decide from this who are the best candidates.
Right now, if you go to Largo da Carioca, you’ll see them everywhere. There is a law that you can only put up these ads from 6am to 10pm. But I saw many yesterday at midnight. If this were policed and the candidates fined, it could raise money to encourage a reuse project. If the materials were even recyclable, garbage pickers would get rich selling them. But after the election, millions of ads will litter the streets — paper, folders, flyers, but also synthetic banners and trestles that can’t be recycled. And they will all go to the landfill.
How would you like to see this change?
Brazil is well known for its creativity, so if parties are going to invest all this money in ads, they should have the forethought to plan to make them useful afterwards — recyclable materials, or something of practical use — something intelligent.