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Brazilian artist Muniz examines the football

RIO DE JANEIRO: Vik Muniz has made images out of everything from sugar to confetti to trash, and with World Cup fever reaching a rolling boil in his native Brazil, the artist has turned his attentions to the object of his nation’s collective obsession, the football itself.

Muniz, who starred in the Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary “Waste Land,” about re-creating masterpiece paintings out of garbage in a Rio de Janeiro landfill, is making his directorial debut with “This Is Not a Ball,” a documentary that chronicles his quest to “draw” with footballs.

Shot in nine countries over nine months, the film is a meditation on the creative process and an intellectual inquiry into the history of the ball and the role it plays in societies across the globe.

“I am not an athlete,” Muniz said at his Rio de Janeiro studio. “I’m terribly inept at sport, which is probably why I became an artist.”

The idea behind the project was to place 10,000 footballs on the pitch of Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium in such a way that, when photographed from air, they’d form a recognizable image.

Muniz has used a similar technique throughout his career, “drawing” portraits of sugar cane workers out of sugar, reproducing an image of action painter Jackson Pollack out of chocolate syrup and recreating Caravaggio’s “Medusa” in spaghetti and tomato sauce.

Footballs, he said, presented their own challenges.

First, the 52-year-old Muniz had to create his own ball, bone white on one side and pitch black on the other, to act as a sort of pixel. The real difficulty was to decide what to draw with the balls, and the documentary chronicles Muniz’s struggle to find a football-related image that didn’t feel like the logo of a sportswear label.

Although football has a global following, Muniz said, it’s all but absent in fine art – provoking the question, “Why are we artists missing out on a subject that’s so rich and complex?”

Muniz delves into the history of not only the ball, but the sphere itself, interviewing astronomers from Harvard University and New York City’s Hayden Planetarium about the great round clouds of gas that formed after the Big Bang.

He also talks to the head of M.I.T.’s self-assembly lab about the spherical shapes of viruses, bacteria and carbon atoms.

Muniz also visits locations with ball game traditions, from Mexico, home of the Aztecs’ “juego de la pelota,” where the player who managed to bump the rubber ball through a stone hoop with his hip was sacrificed, to Japan, where men in elaborate kimonos still play “kemori,” a dribbling game dating back to the ninth century.

“It’s not a traditional documentary,” said Muniz, who co-directed the film with Juan Rendon. “It’s more a movie about curiosity. It’s just a guy there, so things sort of like happen around him but if he wasn’t there, none of that would be happening.”

The movie also explores sport as a vehicle for social change, examining the role of organized football fan clubs in Egypt’s revolution and the massive street protests that swept Brazil during last year’s World Cup dry-run, the Confederations Cup.

Muniz said he understood the reasons – the corruption and misuse of public funds – that pushed the demonstrators onto the street, adding that he expected more protests during the tournament.

“They will take advantage of the limelight that the World Cup will provide and will come to the streets to [demonstrate] – pacifically or violently, I don’t know,” Muniz said.

“But within these protests, there will be the sad voice that [the demonstrators] are going against something that is so dear to them and such a subject of pride – football – something that normally unites Brazilians and has united them against a government that’s not doing its job.”

When asked which team he was betting to win, Muniz laughed, “Brazil, of course. Any Brazilian would tell you that.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 11, 2014, on page 16.

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Summary

Vik Muniz has made images out of everything from sugar to confetti to trash, and with World Cup fever reaching a rolling boil in his native Brazil, the artist has turned his attentions to the object of his nation's collective obsession, the football itself.

First, the 52-year-old Muniz had to create his own ball, bone white on one side and pitch black on the other, to act as a sort of pixel. The real difficulty was to decide what to draw with the balls, and the documentary chronicles Muniz's struggle to find a football-related image that didn't feel like the logo of a sportswear label.

The movie also explores sport as a vehicle for social change, examining the role of organized football fan clubs in Egypt's revolution and the massive street protests that swept Brazil during last year's World Cup dry-run, the Confederations Cup.


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