Yesterday, while our staff finished last-minute preparations for TEDGlobal 2014, a kind of hush fell over the streets of Rio de Janeiro as Brazilians voted in their presidential election. In a race between more than 10 candidates, President Dilma Rousseff emerged as the front-runner, taking 41.5% of the vote, with runner-up Aécio Neves capturing 33.7% of the vote. The two are headed for a run-off election on October 26.
Mundano, a graffiti artist as well as a member of the newly-minted class of TEDGlobal 2014 Fellows, took the election as a call to artistic action. Best known for his project Pimp My Carroça, which called attention to the vital role of waste pickers in Brazil and around the world by customizing their carts, he had an idea. He arrived early in Rio from Sao Paulo, and spent the days before the election building an art installation to call attention to the amount waste involved in the elections.
We asked Mundano to tell us more about this newest work.
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 a 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 a lot on social media. 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 found politicians. In the past, I’ve written this message on the carts that 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, when 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 to take the posters home, change their 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 action in Sao Paulo because that’s where I vote, but when I realized I’d be in Rio for the elections this year – which are historical because there were more candidates with real chances, and no one knew what would 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. On all the false promises, and all the awful waste.
Describe these posters – from what you say, they sound pervasive.
The typical 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.
This post originally ran on the TED Fellows Blog. More on the Fellows at TEDGlobal 2014: