May 5, 2009 - May 23, 2009 18:30
Since 2005, Carlos Motta has traveled in Latin America, recording over 300 video interviews with civilians on the streets of twelve cities (Bogota, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Caracas, Venezuela; Guatemala City, Guatemala; La Paz, Bolivia; Managua, Nicaragua; Mexico City, Mexico; Panama City, Panamá; Santiago, Chile; San Salvador, El Salvador; São Paulo, Brazil and Tegucigalpa, Honduras), asking questions on individual perceptions of U.S. foreign policy, democracy, leadership, and social inequality.
His dialogues with students, teachers, activists, laborers, etc. resulted in an extremely varied spectrum of opinion, which fluctuated according to local situations and forms of government.
The dialogues explore the political and social landscapes of each city and the subjects’ lives, unearthing personal narratives and revealing the breadth of collective memory. All the dialogues take place outdoors, often in small groups, in parks, plazas or sidewalks, transforming public space into a space of action through public disclosure.
The Good Life takes a seemingly straightforward documentary approach to the interview process, and makes an overt reference to the democratic spaces of antiquity. Neither strategy, however, is presented as unproblematic. The formal structure of the videos themselves underscores the importance of the speaking subjects: unlike much documentary work which focuses on the performative interaction between the interviewer or filmmaker and their subjects (along the lines of Michael Moore), Motta keeps the camera on the people he is speaking with, his presence limited to his questions being read and heard. This is not an effort to efface the role of the interviewer or artist; rather, it functions as an acknowledgment of the critical importance of speech as action, and as a way for the dialogues to function as symbolically open and public.
Among the plethora of opinions on democracy presented in The Good Life, one repeats and resounds: the view that democracy must necessarily mean more than a single, occasional vote on a predetermined issue, or a vote for one of a set of preselected political candidates.
Political philosopher Chantal Mouffe has written about the impossibility of wholly emancipated model of representative democracy, and the inevitable failure of the idea of rational consensus in decision making due to its failure to acknowledge constantly shifting dimensions of power. Instead, she postulates a model that she calls “agonistic pluralism,” which incorporates an awareness of the conflicts and exclusions inherent in society, and integrates these shifting dynamics, and the identities they form, into decision-making processes. It is perhaps such a model that Motta’s multivalent project suggests: one which acknowledges the fissures inherent to every plural society, and incorporates them into an ongoing, participatory effort to both speak and to understand.