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Speculations on Digital Art and Viral Spaces

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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 5:16AM   |  25 comments
Screen grab from The Good Life

Blog written by Dale Hudson, co-curator with Sharon Lin Tay of “Map Open Space” exhibit at FLEFF 2010.

Part One: Conception and Realization

Winner of the Jury Prize in the Map Open Space exhibition at FLEFF 2010, La Buena Vida/The Good Life ( is a video project comprised by more than 400 interviews with pedestrians in the streets of twelve Latin American cities conducted between 2005 and 2008.

Along with several commissioned texts that respond to the question ‘What is democracy to you?’ from different social and theoretical perspectives, the video interviews can be accessed through an online archive.

The project is also a multi-channel video installation that premiered at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in 2008 and has been also exhibited in Aarhus, Berlin, Bogotá, Buffalo, Buenos Aires, Castelló, Florence, Gijón, Lyon, New York City, and San Francisco.

Sharon and I have received lots of requests for additional information on the project, so we asked Carlos Motta whether we could interview him for the Digital Spaces blog.  He agreed, so the text for the interview, which took place on May 6th, 2010, is published in two posts.  This one focuses on Motta’s conception of the project; the next will focus on its reception and his other projects.

The Interview

Dale Hudson:  As you might have read on the Digital Spaces blog, our jury loved La Buena Vida/The Good Life!  How did you conceive the concept for the project?

Carlos Motta:  It is a project that took a long time to complete, so it went through different phases.  Initially, I was working on a different project, the S.O.A. Cycle, which investigates the image of the Cold War in Latin American politics from a political and military perspective.  Upon finishing that work, I wanted to take all of the information that I had gathered to the streets in order to see how we [Latin Americans] perceived U.S. foreign policy and democracy as an “imported” concept.

DH:  I noticed on the web site that New Commissions/Art in General (AIG), the New York-based nonprofit organization, is credited with commissioning The Good Life.  What was the exact role on AIG?

CM:  Art in General commissioned the website itself, which is the last part of the project.  There is also an installation and a publication, parts with which they weren’t involved.   But the online archive was produced with their generous support.

DH:  How did you go about doing the earlier parts?  Were they self-funded or were there other supporting organizations?

CM:  In the beginning, I had no money or support, so my strategy was to produce the videos during my trips to other exhibitions and festivals.  For example, when I went to Mexico City, I had been invited to teach a course.  The school where I was teaching paid for my travel so I did my shooting on the side.

In the beginning, it was kind of self-funded, so I had to be as creative as I could in terms of finding the money.  Later on, when I started to look at the material and shape it, I started to apply for grants.  By the end, I think I was very fortunate: I think that I got every grant that I applied to, so it became a very well funded project, and I was able to finish it.

DH:  In what ways does The Good Life draw upon Fernando Solonas and Octavio Gettino’s concept of Third Cinema and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed?

CM: Solanas and Getino play an important role in the cultural reflection on class struggle and difference in Latin America [during the 1960s].  Their concept of “Third Cinema” proposed a filmmaking practice that would respond to the pressing social and political issues of that time directly and not metaphorically.  I looked closely at the ways that they thought about the issues of spectatorship and audience, for example, and how they thought of film as enabling a sense of national belonging and citizenship.  There are other filmmakers, such as [Jorge] Sanjinés in Bolivia and Marta Rodriguez and [Jorge] Silva in Colombia that are very influential to me.

Paulo Freire’s, Pedagogy of the Oppressed served more as a theoretical framework for the making of The Good Life.  Freire’s is a hugely influential ‘method’—he really didn’t like that word—it is a way of conceiving a pedagogy that is inclusive and responsive to the needs of students, as opposed to imposing an agenda that lies outside what people really need.  I drew upon Freire’s ideas as I thought about the ways that I would ask the questions and the type of work that I would create from all of this material.

DH: The Good Life engages in acts of what is sometimes called radical historiography, a re-conception of history in terms of people rather than in terms of political leaders, in terms of relationality rather than chronology.  How did you conceive the criteria (question, city, gender, age group, occupation) by which users of the internet archive can select and sort data?

CM:  There are two things about that I found interesting since, as I told you earlier, the work has two parts.  The first part was the installation: In conceiving of the way that I would treat the video for the installation, I realized that, in a way, I wanted to treat it somewhat more conventionally.  I was thinking in terms of narrative and linearity.  I was approaching this material in a way that was more filmic.

When it came to think about how this material should be organized for the online archive, however, I wanted to break away from narrative and linearity and provide a different form of viewing/editing the material, which is when these categories and the tagging came about.  Even though it would be me who was defining certain possibilities [for selecting and sorting by tags], it would be a more fragmented experience of viewing the videos for the website’s users.  With that in mind, I studied the material and, in a way, it told me what to do.  There were very specific themes that kept reoccurring all the time; so those, of course, became important categories, which are the ones listed in the subjects and themes.  Other categories were inescapable—city, gender, age, etc.—since they were practical ways for sorting through the material and they also reflected specific tendencies amongst age groups or in certain cities, for example.  You could think of this information as statistical.

Final Thoughts

Check back soon for the second part of this interview with Carlos Motta.

If you haven’t already done so, explore the video interviews and data visualization in The Good Life.  If you’ve already done so, explore further—and let us know your thoughts about the content and form of the project of considering the complexities of U.S. interventions into democratization in Latin America.

Any videos in the archive unsettle your expectations?


To me, film seems most effective when it's making a political statement. Some might criticize Motta for asking leading questions (I watched a few of his interviews), but all documentaries--and all films, for that matter--are inherently biased. I can't think of any documentaries that managed to be successful and objective--at most, they're balanced, but without an angle they tend to be dry, and even those can seem forced (and trying to get equal evidence for both sides--rather than focusing on analysis--seems like an inappropriate goal).

Being a prospective filmmaker it is interesting to see how someone with just a simple idea and no funds or anything can produce an amazing film. When Carlos Motta was talking about applying for grants, what types of grants does he mean? Specific ones for filmmakers?


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