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Interview in 3 parts: Part 1- Beginnings and Beyond

Six Acts Video Installation by Carlos Motta

Cyprus. It’s almost 3 o’ clock in the afternoon. I’m feeling nervous. The time is drawing near for me to interview Carlos Motta, a prolific, young, Colombian, multi-award-winning artist, living in New York, whose work I greatly admire. Skype is not cooperating with me today as the minutes flash by on collision course with our designated rendezvous, 8 a.m. New York time. I try to log on again and again. Technology is such a fickle goddess… Finally! I get a break! The two hemispheres come together through our computers and time zones merge as planned. I’m grateful this is happening. There are so many questions I’ve been aching to ask since I discovered his work.

 I first met Carlos Motta a few weeks earlier at the Hebel am Ufer theatre in Berlin where a couple of his video installations were being shown. The theatre’s curator pointed him out to me. I had no idea who he was and I had never seen his work before. The installations on display were, Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice (2010) on the ground floor and The Good Life (2005-2008), upstairs. I was immediately drawn into them. Both dealt with difficult subjects such as democracy and human rights through a documentarist approach. I was struck by the emotional power of his work. The elements of challenge, activism and communication in art interest me enormously. I admired the geniality of his narrative solutions and the way the complex themes in each project were presented in an accessible, immediate way. Carlos was there quietly photographing his installations in their setting. I introduced myself and asked him the question that gave birth to the following interview: How does it feel to be Colombian?

CM: The feeling of being Colombian is somewhat contradictory. Especially when you are Colombian internationally, when you don’t live in Colombia, that is. As a Colombian national you represent a country that carries so much stigma with regard to drugs and violence. So of course on one hand it is always a burden to be Colombian. It is also a burden to be Colombian when you travel. When you enter a country you are generally regarded with suspicion. You have to wait in line and then enter a room where you have to answer uncomfortable questions, particularly in the U.S. and in Europe. I think part of the problem of being Colombian is the sense of national identity. I think this is particularly the case when you live in Colombia proper because you get a sense that the country is somewhat falling apart and you live there, you live in the middle of this conflict. On the other hand the positive aspect of being Colombian is the fact that these circumstances have made us a really interesting nation and people that regard themselves highly, that consider themselves capable of doing many things. I also think that we’re a very happy and a very intelligent nation and a people that work really, really hard. So, to sum it up, being Colombian is a contradiction, it’s a push and pull between negotiating with the conflict and then being in a certain positive way because of that conflict.

NE: Do you feel defined as a person by the word Colombian?

CM: Well, I do, personally, in the sense that I was born there and raised there, and I think like a Colombian, and I speak like a Colombian, and I have a Colombian accent as well. But I’ve had the possibility of traveling since I was a boy so a lot of my upbringing has taken place elsewhere. In that sense I wouldn’t characterize myself as a typical Colombian because I’ve had other influences that have shaped my personality.

NE: Does your country define your art?

CM: No, I wouldn’t say my country defines my art. My work has to do with different kinds of artistic research; it doesn’t deal exclusively with a sense of national identity.

NE: What are the main themes in you work?

CM: There are two main preoccupations that make up the core of my work: one deals with the formal and conceptual aspects of developing an art project and the other deals with the political situations I choose to engage with. In the last few years I have been concerned with finding different platforms and ways to investigate the way that we, as individuals, live and behave in politicized environments: How do we understand politics from our own subjectivity and how does that helps us. So I have thought up different ways of approaching this massive topic through various projects, in order to put subjectivity at play and turn it into a political but also – and perhaps more importantly – into a kind of emotional reflection about politics as a concept and how it affects us. As an artist I try to find some reconciliation between my conceptual research and the artistic work presented within the space of an institution or within the context of an art discourse.

NE: Why the concern with politics and why from a subjective point of view?

CM: The perspective from which I can reflect on the Political comes from a sense of personal experience. I’m interested in the way other people, either individually or collectively, are affected by or interact with political situations. I believe this to be something inescapable, simply because we live in a world in which politics overtly determine our lives. Not reflecting on this would be irresponsible.

NE: What exactly is your responsibility as an artist and towards whom?

CM: The responsibility I speak about has to do with being aware of the things that are going on around you, to be engaged and to be responsive to them. Not living in a vacuum but being connected to the world. I believe we can build a better society and a better world through our work, no matter the scale of our actions.

NE: How do you begin to deal with these issues?

C.M: To answer the question we’d need to go into my body of work and analyze the different projects individually, because they all deal with different subjects. So I’d rather limit myself to describing a series of works that I have been developing in the last four years which go under the title, Democracy Cycle.

This cycle of works is presently composed of four projects, either completed or in progress. It is a cycle that will include five works as a whole. The common link between them is that they all reflect upon the concept of democracy. A concept saturated with political issues of course, but which I have tried to approach from different perspectives and see how it features in conversations such as foreign policy or intervention of one nation/region into another one. A good example to cite is a project entitled The Good Life, for which I interviewed over 400 people in the streets of Latin American cities between 2005 and 2008 about how they perceive the concept of democracy in relation to U.S. intervention in Latin America. The result is an archive of video interviews that reflects how a number of ordinary Latin Americans think of the U.S. as a regional power and, in consequence, democracy as kind of imported concept. 

A more recent project, still in progress, of the same cycle, titled We Who Feel Differently, approaches the question of democracy from the perspective of sexual orientation and gender identity. My intention is to speak to activists, academics, politicians, lawyers and others who are actively involved in the struggle to achieve LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer] rights in significantly different geographic, political and cultural contexts [Colombia, South Korea, Norway and the U.S.] This project will also be a platform to discuss the idea of an incomplete democracy when it comes to sexual diversity and gender indetermination. These two things seem to threaten society in inconceivable ways; those of us that reject traditional sexual and gender norms have become one of the most marginalized social groups.

I am also interested in discovering special aesthetic platforms for each work. These two projects share the fact that they exist online. They are both websites that archive the interviews. They also exist as video installations. I would say that the way I approach the work comes of course from the desire to have a political discussion but at the same time to have a conversation from within aesthetic concerns. It’s not enough for me to project a video on a wall. I want to deal with an exhibition space in ways that are specific and related to the content of the works.

NE: What does space do to an idea?

CM: Space is responsible for our understanding of the idea. We need to think of space in a really open way and define it very inclusively. Space is not necessarily a room with white walls but a category which provides room to reflect on certain things. For example in these two projects, The Good Life and We Who Feel Differently, virtual space comes into play as a space of communication, a space of access, a space of interaction, a data bank and a space of memory. The institutional art space is also a space of communication. It’s a space of experimentation with form and that would be thinking of space more conceptually. The physical space, i.e. the space of the exhibition, is one that allows for the molding and the shaping of physical forms and there you could think of Adorno speaking about the interaction of sensitive forms in space. Space forms meaning.



Cyprus / Κύπρος  Nowadays / Τωρά  


It’s good, isn’t it? / Εν καλά, έννενι;

(Not bad considering its history… you know: colonialism, war, division and all that trauma.)

(Έννεν άσσιημα αν σκεφτείς την ιστορίαν της… ξέρεις τα γνωστά: αποικιοκρατίες, πολέμοι, διαμοιρασμοί και λοιπά τραύματα.)

Grand, isn’t it? / Μέγιστα, έννενι;

(Well, Ive seen bigger…)

(Είδα τζαι πιο μεγάλα να σου πω…)

Great, isn’t it? / Σπουδαία, έννενι;

(…Oh all right! It is the third largest in the Mediterranean anyway…)

(…Ο-κέϊ άτε! Εν η τρίτη πιο μεγάλη στη Μεσόγειον ένιγουεϊ…)

Swell, isn’t it? / Έξοχα, έννενι;

(Yeah, it’s all about the show… XL always wins…)

(Όντως μόνον εξοχότητες κυκλοφορούν σε τουν την νήσον, φουσκωμένες σαν τους πετεινούς για να φαίνουνται…)

Fun, isn’t it? / Γαμάτα, έννενι;

(Well the tourists seem to think so… I think there’s space for improvement…)

(Για τες τουρίστριες, ίσως… Νομίζω ότι υπάρχει περιθώριον βελτίωσης όμως…)

Nowadays / Τωρά


There’s men, everywhere / Έσιει άντρες, παντού

(Mostly in the closet though; heterosexism is quite obligatory.)

(Κυρίως μες την ντουλάππαν όμως· ο ετεροφυλισμός εν αρκετά υποχρεωτικός.)

Jazz, everywhere / Τζαζ, παντού

(Jazz? That black music?)

(Ντζιας; Μα η μουσική των μαύρων ρε;)

Booze, everywhere / Ποτά, παντού

(It’s become so expensive though! You can’t even get drunk with these prices any more!)

(Ναι! μα ούτε να μεθύσεις εν μπορείς πιον έτσι που γίναν οι τιμές…)

Life, everywhere / Ζωή, παντού

(Not in Larnaca there isn’t… it really is a funerary box, just like the name says!)

(Στην Λάρνακαν εν κινείται μούγια… εν ακριβώς όπως λαλεί το όνομαν της, έναν φέρετρον!)

Joy, everywhere / Χαρά, παντού

(If you can afford Joy, she really is a great hostess! She’s been with the best people!)

(Αν βαστάς να πιερώσεις την Χαράν, εν καταπληχτική συνοδός! Επήραν την οι καλλύττεροι!)

Nowadays / Τωρά



You can like the life youre living / Επιτρέπεται να σου αρέσκει η ζωή που ζεις

(There’s not much variety to chose from.)

(Εν τζι έσιεις τζαι πολλήν επιλογήν…)

You can live the life you like / Επιτρέπεται να ζεις την ζωήν που σ’ αρέσκει

(Well you can give it a shot anyway!)

(Όπωσδήποτε, επιτρέπεται τουλάχιστον να δοκιμάσεις!)

You can even marry Harry / Επιτρέπεται να παντρευτείς τον Χάρην

(Because if you don’t the neighbours will talk… so you must!)

(Εσκέφτηκες τι εν να πει ο κόσμος αν δεν τον παντρευτείς;)

But mess around with Ike… And thats / Μα αν κάμεις πελλάρες με τον Μάϊκ… Εν τόσον

(Oh who doesn’t mess around… just make sure you keep up the appearances and everything will be fine!)

(Ου τζαι πιος εν ξενογαμά; Τα προσχήματα να κρατάς τζαι τα υπόλοιπα έρκουνται μόνα τους!)



Good, isn’t it? / Καλά, έννενι;

(No not really… it’s becoming quite inhuman…)

(Όϊ τζαι πολλά… έτο άρκεψεν να γίνεται λλίον απάνθρωπη η κατάσταση…)

Grand, isn’t it? / Μέγιστα, έννενι;

(Well new churches certainly are! They spring up like giant garish mushrooms! So much religion for what, I wonder? For whom?)

(Ε, οι τζινούρκοι ναοί εν όντως μέγιστοι! Φυτρώνουν σαν κάτι τεράστια φωναχτά μανιτάρκα! Γιατί τόση θρησκεία, άραγε; Για ποιον; )

Great, isn’t it? / Σπουδαία, έννενι;

(Yeah, bronze medal in the Mediterranean games, like we said earlier!)

(Ναι, είπαμεν, χάλκινον μετάλλιον στους Μεσογειακούς!)

Swell, isn’t it? / Έξοχα, έννενι;

(Quite flaccid to be frank… too many inhibitions…)

(Νερουλιασμένα θα έλεγα… οι αναστολές εν πολλές· ειδικά για τες εξοχότητες…)

Fun, isn’t it… / Γαμάτα, έννενι;

(One has to do one’s best!)

(Το κατά δύναμην!)

But nothing stays / Μα τίποτε εν μινείσκει

(Nope, nothing at all; 21st century realities I suppose…)

(Τίποτε απολύτως· υποθέτω πως έτσι ένι ο 21ος  αιώνας…)



In fifty years or so / Σε καμιάν πενηνταρκάν χρόνια


(Ναι; )

Its gonna change, you know / Τα πράματα ενν’ αλλάξουν ξέρεις

(Yeah, like the present status quo people are gonna be alive to clean up their mess then!)

(Ναι, γιατί οι κύριοι του σημερινού στάτους κβο εν να μείνουν ζωντανοί ως τότε για να καθαρίσουν τα σκατά τους…)

But, oh, its heaven / Όμως εν ένας παράδεισος

(Oh yes it is! Nothing like a good old fashioned political arm chair, for some lucky asses to grow roots in!)

(Όντως! Το καλλύττερον πράμαν στον παράδεισον είναι μια παραδοσιακή πολιτική πολυθρόνα για να βολευτεί τζαι να φκάλει ρίζες κάποιος τυχερός κώλος! Λαχείον!)

Nowadays / Τωρά



And that’s / Εν τόσον


(Τι; )

Good, isn’t it? / Καλά, έννενι;

(Ask the young creative minds if it is…)

(Ρώτα τα νεαρά δημιουργικά μυαλά αν ένι…)

Grand, isn’t it? / Μέγιστα, έννενι;

(Ask the talented guys, the “different” ones, forced to migrate before they waste away in this cultural desert; hear what they have to say…)

(Ρώτα τους ταλαντούχους, τους “διαφορετικούς,” που πιέζουνται να μεταναστεύσουν πριν να καταϊσιευτούν σε τουν την πολιτιστικήν έρημον· ρώτα τους να δούμεν τι λαλούν…)

Great, isn’t it? / Σπουδαία, έννενι;

(Ask the immigrant minorities living in Cyprus to see if it is…)

(Ρώτα τες μειονότητες των μεταναστών που ζιούν στην Κύπρον να δεις αν ένι…)

Swell, isn’t it? / Έξοχα, έννενι;

(Sure, the morale is always swell in here!)

(Καλό! Το ηθικόν εν πάντα ακμαιότατον δα μέσα!)

Fun, isn’t it? / Γαμάτα, έννενι;

(We do try to keep our spirits up!)

(Κάμνουμεν ότι μπορούμεν για να ψυχαγωγούμαστεν, κάπως!)

But nothing stays/ Μα τίποτε εν μινείσκει

(No, nothing; the best thing about progress is mobility.)

(Όϊ τίποτε· το ατού της προόδου εν η κινητικότητα.)



In fifty years or so / Σε καμιάν πενηνταρκάν χρόνια

(Oh must you be so dire?)

(Ούφφου, γιατί είσαι έτσι απειλητική;)

Its gonna change, you know / Τα πράματα ενν’ αλλάξουν, ξέρεις

(Some people hope to be dead long before then…)

(Μερικοί ελπίζουν να τα τινάξουν πολλά πιο πριν…)

But, oh, its heaven / Όμως εν ένας παράδεισος

(Yes, for consumerism and politics it still is!)

(Ναι, για τον καταναλωτισμόν τζαι την πολιτικήν ακόμα ένι!)

Nowadays / Τωρά


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