Exhibition in La Paz Fare well!

Is material prosperity needed to lead a “good life”? All we can say is that bathtubs are entirely overrated
Is material prosperity needed to lead a “good life”? All we can say is that bathtubs are entirely overrated | Photo: Wara Vargas

What is a good life, a real life? Fifteen Latin American artists now explored this elementary question guided by a concept of the indigenous population of the Andes. Their answers often raise new questions, but are nonetheless enlightening.

“I trudge, breathing heavily, across scree of dark rock in the Andes, eighty kilometres from La Paz. Although I’ve only walked a few kilometres, I have no more strength. The thin air at this high altitude is taking its toll and there’s a roaring in my head that sounds like a machine shop. Time stands still.” Andreas Rost is on a mountain hike to prepare himself and his companions for the project Vivir Bien – the Good Life. The only equipment they’ve brought along is the tools of their trades. Rost meets his limits. The photographer and art historian nonetheless attempts to bear the “grandeur” of this nature experience in mind, the immensity and the permanence that the rocks below his feet convey to him.

In reality, however, this landscape is not even thirty years old. There used to be a massive glacier here. It was one of the many victims of global warming and is a good example, in Rost’s opinion, that we need a new, holistic way of seeing nature, humanity, life and society. “Our voice is the voice of the snow-capped mountains, which are losing their white ponchos,” Evo Morales, Bolivia’s indigenous president once said.

Go to the photo album Go to the photo album on Facebook | Nature, humanity and life are what Vivir Bien is all about; about the good, real, sustainable life. Vivir Bien is an exhibition and yet more than an exhibition. In reality it is a project, a process leading into an exhibition that opened last Saturday in Bolivia’s capital city of La Paz. It will later make stops in a number of South American cities and, in the end, in Berlin as well.

The Goethe-Institut project which is supported by the Bolivian Central Bank arose from an earlier cooperation with Rost who eventually took over the role of one of its curators. It began with the ancient suma qamaña concept of the indigenous inhabitants of the Andean plateau, which translates best into Spanish as vivir bien. It is a concept that exists in other cultures in a similar form, for example as the Gross National Happiness Index in the Kingdom of Bhutan. In 2008, the principle was adopted by the Ecuadorian and in 2009 by the Bolivian constitution. Vivir bien is nothing less than a positive political utopia, which juxtaposes the traditional ideals of Indio societies with the challenges of modern, urban life. It is not so much about a personal good life as it is life in the community and a new relationship with nature.

With Rost and three other curators, fifteen young artists from five Latin American countries are exploring this theme in their works. In pictorial histories, videos, audio recordings and installations, they reveal their own personal interpretations of the vision of the vivir bien, thus inviting us into an active debate about the future.

Some of the artists undertook long journeys while others discovered their subjects on the market square they visit daily. The length of the journey was not decisive, but the departure in both a physical and artistic sense. Asking questions also means questioning things.

No easy task since we seldom ask questions about “the good life” in our everyday life. Sometimes we even tend to avoid the question according to another curator of the project, Michael Biedowicz, since an answer to the question might involve consequences. “Once the question is out there, it quickly touches the sphere of the existential and inevitable, in other words, truly deep issues.”