Vik Muniz’s photos play with perception and contradictions


Art has throughout history served several purposes – to create a representation of reality, convey political statements or simply provide a beautiful treat for your eye. However, art can also have the intention to shock, question or push boundaries. A famous example of provoking and controversial pieces comes from Marcel Duchamp, who questioned what art is by exhibiting bicycle wheels and urinals in galleries. Despite being both hated and loved, Marcel Duchamp is often described as the father of conceptual art and his legacy greatly influenced modern art in late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Discover the deception

“I want to make the worst possible illusion that will still fool the eyes of the average person.”

A more contemporary artist, who also likes to surprise and provoke the viewers, is the photographer Vik Muniz. Taking advantage of the beauty of contradiction, he uses ordinary, underestimated materials such as thread or dust, to create clever and often humoristic illusions that the observers themselves are left to interpret and explore. His ambition is to show people the extent of their own belief.

One of Vik Muniz’s successful projects was featured in the award-winning movie Waste Land. At the largest garbage dump in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, he worked with collectors of recyclable materials and together they used the recyclables to create art which Vik Muniz captured in photos.

Creating art with help from science

“It’s so insignificant, yet so monumental”

More recently, Vik Muniz has been teaming up with scientists at MIT to create spectacular works of art. In the project “Turning living cells into art” he teamed up together with postdoc Tal Danino to generate a series of portraits and patterns using bacteria and cancer cells as “paint”. For another series of works, termed “Sandcastles”, Vik Muniz collaborated with artist and researcher Marcelo Coelho to etch drawings of castles onto a single grain of sand (top image).

Ordinary materials make extraordinary art

Common for Vik Muniz’s works is the wish to bring ordinary or negatively associated concepts into a new perspective in a thought-provoking way. “The really magical things are the ones that happen right in front of you. A lot of the time you keep looking for beauty, but it is already there. And if you look with a bit more intention, you see it.”

In his TED talk, Vik presents his path to becoming an artist as well as his reasoning for using low-tech methods to create his illusions.


Image credits royalty free



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About Monika Abramczuk

Monika studied biotechnology and molecular biology. When not engaged in research, she likes to read spy thrillers, drink tea, bake and travel.

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