How do we talk about cities? We often speak in terms of buildings, streets, statistics, and money. Phrases like ‘built environment’ and ‘creative economy’ are popular these days yet the conversation rarely turns towards the things that truly etch a city into our minds and transform it from a dot on a map into a vivid place that’s alive with our memories, habits, and emotions. The sidewalk café where somebody fell in love. The bench in the park where someone else decided to quit drinking. The busy intersection where an old man began to cry. And all the breakups and breakdowns at the all-night diner. These things happen all the time. Our private struggles and triumphs define our relationship to the places we live. Buildings, sidewalks, parks, and trains are the backdrop that can enhance or diminish these critical moments in our lives.
Here’s a nice dialogue between artist Vik Muniz and recycler Tiaõ, taken from the documentary 'Waste Land' which was recently on at the Agnès b. cinema in the Hong Kong Arts Centre. The two discuss art’s subjectivity, its therapeutic qualities and the individual’s outlook.
Vik Muniz: What did you think of modern art before you went to the auction?
Tiaõ: I used to think it was crap.
Vik Muniz: Why’d you think it was crap?
Tiaõ: Because I think a lot of things aren’t really art.
Vik Muniz: Why don’t you think it’s art? Because you don’t get it?
Tiaõ: Because I don’t get it and it’s totally meaningless.
Vik Muniz: But do you think you have to get it, for it to be art?
Tiaõ: I think it has to communicate something at least. After you told me the story about… Jean-Michel Basquiat… I started liking his stuff a lot more. I began to understand his kind of sinister style. It’s a bit childish, like monsters. I started to understand it and I liked it.
Vik Muniz: But if you’re saying you liked it better after you understood it, then maybe we just don’t like things we don’t understand.
Tiaõ: Of course, you can dislike something because you haven’t tried it. For example, you were always trying to explain what you were doing. But I never understood.
Vik Muniz: Until you saw it?
Tiaõ: I only understood it when Fabio brought me up here. Then I got what you crazy people were up to. Then I really got it.
Vik Muniz: The crazy people are the ones who buy it.
Tiaõ: They’re not crazy. It’s beautiful. I’d buy it. I’ll buy it someday. I’ll buy my picture back.