A singular story told by art

How can a series of cultural events tell the story of refugees and migrants? Interview with Ekaterina Degot, curator of PLURIVERSALE V at the Academy of the Arts of the World in Cologne.  

von Theresa Schmidt

Panel discussion on the Pluriversale: "How is the colonial culture of welcome?" At 3.5. in Cologne. Photo: Press
Panel discussion on the Pluriversale: “How is the colonial culture of welcome?” At 3.5.2016 in Cologne. Photo: Press

PLURIVERSALE V takes place from September 2nd until December 16th 2016. In the introduction, the dense programme of talks, screenings, pop-up installations, performances, concerts, discussions and an exhibition is described as a group show rather than an art festival. What exactly is PLURIVERSALE?

Ekaterina Degot: PLURIVERSALE is a story or a complex of stories that are built into a linear narrative – necessarily linear, as it is built in time – but still complex. There is a connection between the events taking place one after another, there is a beginning and an ending. To give an example: Katarina Zdjelar’s show is about the notion of sound in the experience of a displaced person. Then a lecture by Bonaventure Ndikung gives a more concrete political dimension to the sonic experience of a refugee who is only allowed to express himself through singing a song of his homeland. Sonic Shadow will work with this topic in music itself . The next day, Bachtyar Ali will reflect on the experience in his talk, whilst Mazzaj Rap Band will give a strong political comment. These connections were planned from the beginning but there will be other inner dialogues, maybe still hidden from us. In this sense, PLURIVERSALE is close to an exhibition with a linear parcours, but it is also a sort of performative magazine, as it reflects topics of our times, translated into art works and discourses.

All of PLURIVERSALE’s events are considered separate artistic and discursive elements which, as a whole, form a quasi-literary narrative. How would you describe the dramaturgy or curatorial concept of PLURIVERSALE and the story it tells? 

The 5th PLURIVERSALE tells the stories of refugees and migrants, that we hope to present from unusual perspectives. It ends with the Open Forum that will reflect on our position ‘here’ towards ‘those who came here’.

Visitors and participants will experience a small part of a big narrative in one event or might experience a whole panorama when they follow PLURIVERSALE over a longer period of time. Does the public in Cologne take advantage of this concept to re-visit, re-meet artists and the possibility to re-discuss certain topics?

Yes, it was already happening last PLURIVERSALE and I am looking forward to seeing many visitors again. Also some of the artists are returning: Avi Mograbi is coming back with his new film after a retrospective last year.

The theme of this year’s PLURIVERSALE reflects the complex situation of refugees who, having left war zones behind and having crossed physical, militarized boarders, are now facing new forms of structural violence, exclusion and repression. How can an event like PLURIVERSALE process such a huge topic?

This is of course enormously complex. There is a lot of political, logistical, economical issues here. But there is also a way of thinking, something we in the Academy can work on: I hope we can reach not just citizens, but also not-yet-citizens, to-be-citizens, migrants and refugees themselves. We all need a readjustment of our point of view and way of thinking.

Avi Mograbi's film Between Fences (France, Israel 2016) will be shown on 20 October 2016 on the Plurivisale. Photo: film still
Avi Mograbi’s film Between Fences (France, Israel 2016) will be shown on 20 October 2016 on the Plurivisale. Photo: film still

PLURIVERSALE V is situated between global conditions and the reality in the city of Cologne. Events take place all over this typical “city of the West”. Which role does the city and its history play for PLURIVERSALE?

It is the concrete side of it, the ‘where’ which is very important for the ‘what’. We have projects directly related to the history of Cologne and the war. But it’s also about showing how this West has changed, how it includes many non-Western elements, already that must not be ignored.

The events presented range across different cultural disciplines and geographical regions. How do you choose the participating artists?

I rely on research, of course my own, our curators’, but also on the advice of members, former fellows and all the people who represent the Academy community. We don’t, at least for now, organize geographically limited festivals, because we are interested in finding similarities between different regions.

PLURIVERSALE seems to focus on the importance of art as a form of self-empowerment. „Beyond , there is fortitude and humor (…).” How would you describe the mission of PLURIVERSALE?

It is about enlarging the vision: Again, not just geographically, but in the sense of looking at things from different perspectives. This is empowering, but in a more complex sense than just changing one narrative into a different one. It is not about replacing victimhood with victorious tone. Yes, a sense of humour plays a very important role here. Something that was developed by the “victimized” and something we can all learn from. I am really glad when our events can make people laugh, because laughing is liberating. This year’s event around our member Monika Gintersdorfer, two shows and a film on gentrification in Africa, will go in this direction, I am sure!

Which event are you especially looking forward to and why? 

I am very interested in the juxtaposition of a lecture by Arjun Appadurai, a renowned postcolonial thinker who writes about violence, and a flamboyant musical-dance performance by Uriel Barthélémi, based on Franz Fanon’s texts. I put them together in one evening event in Stadtgarten and I am intrigued how it will work and which perspectives it will open up.


Ekaterina Degot, born in Moscow in 1958, is a curator, art historian and writer. She became Artistic Director of the Academy of the Arts of the World in Cologne in 2014 where she established PLURIVERSALE as a festival across different cultures and disciplines. Today, PLURIVERSALE takes place as a bi-yearly season of events all over the city of Cologne and at the ACADEMYSPACE.

WIR MACHEN DAS will report on PLURIVERSALE V and give impressions of some events in September.