Every Photograph Has An Agenda - The Vision Of Vik Muniz

The leading Brazilian artist defies our expectations with photographed installations, challenging a society too apt to consume images rather than examine them.

Vik Muniz in Rio
Vik Muniz in Rio
Mercedes Pérez Bergliaffa
BUENOS AIRES — Nothing is quite what it seems in the art of Vik Muniz.
The Brazilian master likes to recreate familiar images using the most unlikely range of materials: beans, marmalade and spaghetti sauce, plastic toys and computer parts, trash and diamonds.
The result is to create images you think you know, or need only a passing glance until you realize there is something different going on. That is what he wants: For you to carefully examine a picture, at a time and in a culture where images can wield enormous power.
Muniz was recently in Buenos Aires for an exhibition of his works at the MUNTREF art museum. He has become one of the Latin America's best-known artists over the past two decades, currently working from his studio in Rio de Janeiro.
What does he do with his unusual artistic materials? He arranges them into faces, human figures or giant scenes and landscapes. Once the "picture" is created, he takes a photograph, which is what is shown in museums. Seeing the images prompts one to ask: What is this? Is it a photograph, or a painting or an installation?
"That is what I like, the fact that I cannot be categorized," he says, sitting down with Clarín at his exhibition in the Argentine capital.
He said that "when you start to think about an image instead of consuming it, you will start to relate effectively and clearly with the contemporary world (in which the image is very important). There is something ethical in my work, related to the exercise of reflecting more deeply on the image."
CLARIN: Why do you say that reflecting on an image should be an ethical problem?

VIK MUNIZ: Images have specific agendas and a rhetoric we often miss. Very occasionally we think about what we are seeing. And there are economic interests connected with the image. I am not saying this is either bad or good, just the way the world is. It has two image industries: One to do with marketing and the other, with contemporary art. Both generate image consumption.

But they are two different types of image consumers.

Yes absolutely, although the context is what differentiates between a commercial and an artistic image. When a person enters a museum, he seeks an image-related experience, which is why I always try and do work that deepens our knowledge of the image.

You are now a well-known artist, but you grew up poor.

Yes, I grew up in a Sao Paulo slum called Jardín Panamericano. My father worked hard all his life as a waiter and my mother was a phone operator. I have done a thousand different jobs.

You said once that the difference between yourself and other people is that you've had more luck than others. How is that?

Yes I think I have been very lucky. There are people with talent who work hard but still fail to achieve things. I have done all kinds of things: I was a mechanic at a service station once. But whatever I did, I tried to do it as best as I could. I always tried to be the best. Another important thing is that I always considered myself a thinking person: even when doing the most sordid jobs, I kept the world inside me.

What or who took you closer to art for the first time?

I used to draw as a child. I am dyslexic so when I wrote, I would doodle. And that way I began to draw more and more. But when I was 19, I worked in a firm that made road signs, and I designed a poster for which they gave me a prize. The night of the award ceremony, a girl stopped me on the street and asked me to help, saying they were killing her boyfriend. I approached and separated two people who were fighting, and the one who had been mugged went to his car, took out a handgun and fired a shot. He hit me in the leg. He had a lot of money so he gave me a reward so I would not report this to the police. I accepted. With that money I bought a ticket to the United States to learn English. After six months I returned to Brazil, but I first went to New York for a weekend, and well, ended up staying 30 years. For six years I was illegal, until they gave me citizenship.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

When I was in New York, I realized my generation was the one creating things, the structures. So I thought: this is my moment. I was friends with some artists, so I started to think I could start doing some art. First I did sculptures, then things which were to be photographed.

What do you seek in your works?

I want people to say, what is this? What is it made of? What is its real size? Why is it made this way? I want people to think they know what the works are about, until they get nearer and realize, they do not.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!