Carlos Motta, The Good Life, video still, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2005-2008

Carlos Motta, The Good Life, video still, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2005-2008

January 18 – March 30, 2008
Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania

Since 2005, Motta has traveled in Latin America, recording over 300 video interviews with civilians on the streets of twelve cities, asking questions about individuals’ perceptions of U.S. foreign policy, democracy, leadership, and social inequality. These dialogues form the basis of the project, which Motta originally initiated with the intention of forming a public archive of opinions on these subjects. Hailing from Bogotá, Colombia, Motta was interested in how U.S. interventionism was perceived across the continent, as well as in understanding the role of these events on his own perceptions of what it means to be a citizen, an acting subject in society. Basing his itinerary on cities that had been influenced by specific historical circumstances (sites of failed revolutions, military coups, and economic reforms), Motta, together with local assistants, sought out a range of individuals to speak with in each city. His dialogues with students, teachers, activists, laborers, etc. resulted in a spectrum of opinion which fluctuated according to local situations and forms of government. In Santiago, many responses touched on the overthrow of former Chilean president Salvador Allende in a military coup; in Buenos Aires, the recent economic impositions of the International Monetary Fund were a source of discussion. The dialogues explore the political and social landscapes of each city and the interview subjects’ lives, unearthing personal narratives and revealing a breadth of collective memory. Each dialogue take place outdoors, in parks, plazas or sidewalks, transforming public space into a space of action through public disclosure.

In a gallery-based installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in early 2008, viewers encountered these interviews as a nine-channel video installation. Monitors were mounted on a four-part, two-tiered wooden structure that was an abstracted reference to the Priene, the theater and general space of the Athenian agora, in which citizens not only bought and sold goods, but met, debated, and participated in legislative and judicial decisions. The position of the monitors on the structure allowed them to metaphorically function as speaking subjects—citizens—in the space, addressing their comments to a wider forum. In a further evocation of Arendt’s space of public disclosure (and her theorization of the vita activa, or “active life,” which became increasingly important to Motta over the course of the project) the structure also created a space for viewers to sit, physically placing them among the previously recorded speaking subjects.

Read my full essay, “Speaking Democracy: Carlos Motta’s The Good Life, in English or Spanish.

Explore the video archive of the project.

Carlos Motta, The Good Life, video still, Managua, Nicaragua, 2005-2008

Carlos Motta, The Good Life, video still, Managua, Nicaragua, 2005-2008

Carlos Motta: The Good Life | 2006 | about