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NPR Arts & Life

Dumpster-Diving Artist Searches Charlotte For Inspiration

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Briana Duggan
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Throughout January, a Brazilian artist will create a structure made out of Charlotte's trash. The work will be on display at the Projective Eye Gallery at UNC Charlotte’s Center City building. WFAE's Briana Duggan rode along with the artist as he hunted for materials and found that gaining access to these things that no one wants – is more difficult you would think.

Back home, finding trash was pretty easy for Henrique Oliveira.

“In Brazil we find sometimes a landfill that doesn't belong to anyone,” he said. “Someone just starts dumping there and nobody complained and we can just go there and take stuff.”

And he'd create stuff. Oliveira would take old rotting plywood he found and build massive, curving wall installations and structures, often echoing trees, roots, and the human body.

In one installation in Brazil, he took over an abandoned mansion, building bulbous structures that ooze from the doors and windows, a tumor growing out of opulence.

“It’s talking about the idea of these big cities where people go and move there and they don’t have where to live and they create these shantytowns. How does this spread? Oliveira said. “And at the same time it’s a way of making visible how the society see these people, how society treat the problem, like a disease.”

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Credit Eduardo Ortega
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Tapumes-Casa de Leoes, 2009, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Now he travels the world, building these massive installations using waste materials he finds in each new city. Charlotte is his latest stop, but here it’s not so easy.

Oliveira, his assistant, and several members of UNCC’s gallery staff have been traveling around Charlotte looking for used material. Oliveira needs supplies that doesn’t stink, bends, and comes in large quantities. 

They’re on their second dumpster of the day and it’s not what Oliveira needs. “There’s a diversity of many materials,” he said, “but mostly new stuff. They are dirty but they are new.”

“What we're finding is that we do a really good job of collecting our garbage in Charlotte,” said Crista Cammarato, UNC Charlotte’s Director of Galleries. “It’s not very easy to just go pilfer. You have to have permission. And in addition to getting all those permissions, you’re not sure if that is going to be what the artist wants.”

Because Oliveira uses local waste materials wherever he goes, his art really references the place he is. 

“I think the whole country has a unity in terms of kind of trash that they have,” he said. And Charlotte’s trash is full of the kind of trash he’s seen making his work across America, “lots of carpets, pads, tires, and lots of thing s from home.”

He says that he uses trash because tells a story within itself. 

“It can be used to create an object that is new but feels as if it is something alive,” Oliveira said, “it feels as if its something that has been there for a long time.”

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Credit Briana Duggan
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Throughout January, Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira create an installation made out of Charlotte's waste at UNCC's Projective Eye Art Gallery in the Center City Building. The exhibit runs Jan. 31 to March 12.

And if used material has a story, what is the story behind Charlotte’s trash?

Oliveira will present his take on that story so far at a process party marking the halfway point of his residency on Friday Jan. 16 at 6p.m. at the Projective Eye Gallery at UNCC’s Center City Building. The gallery will host a reception for the completed exhibition on Jan. 31, and it  will be on display until March. 

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This story is produced through the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, a consortium of local media dedicated to covering the arts.