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Programme Opening Speech by Madhusree Dutta


Hi Everybody,

I am Madhusree Dutta – new Artistic Director of the Academy.
This is a moment of many beginnings – new programme, new alliances, newer kind of public arts and also a new way of imagining together. And personally for me – a whole new way of living and working. This is an evening of reciprocation. I am here to welcome you all to Academy’s Spring programme launch. But this is also an occasion where you and the city of Cologne are welcoming me to live in this city and work with all of you, along with all of you. I thank you in anticipation of the time ahead.

I come from a city called Bombay or Mumbai, in India. That city has more than 21 million people living there. It is a colonial city, a port city, a post-industrial city, city of migration, city of cinema culture that is popularly called Bollywood. In some sense, that city’s main production economy is Image Productions. And currently it is also a city of extreme right wing politics. It is a mega-metropolis that has been studied by academics, extensively represented in popular cinema and media, romanced by artists and writers; and considered as a refuge for the runaway boys and girls, drop outs, aspirants and adventurers. It is extremely rich and unimaginably poor. In short, I come from a place that is over the top and in your face, in every sense. And as a city it is quite young too – roughly 300 years old. Yet it is a city that is much lived, much visited and much seen in representations. So far I have worked as a filmmaker, curator and activist in such a quintessential Asian metropolis. From there I come to your city of Cologne and in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Thousands of years old Western European city – post-war, post industrial, post-socialist, football crazy, city of carnival, tourist friendly and ‘refugee hosting’ city - that is fast transforming into a gentrified land. And I come here at a time when the whispers of intolerance and identity politics have begun to get louder. As the mines and the industries shut down making the multi-ethnic working class redundant the region gets projected as the next big cultural hub in Europe. It was an all-important city at the beginning of the 20th century because of its industrial prosperity and now it is projected to be ‘re-vitalised’ as the centre for intellectual and cultural industries. The abandoned production sheds, workers’ quarters, industrial relics are transforming into spectacular spaces for art extravaganzas and gentrified urban schemes. And on that ticket of ‘re-vitalisation’ I have sailed from Mumbai to Cologne. So here I stand in front of you – certain things I understand because they are the common experiences of the contemporary living conditions. Also because as colonial subjects we have studied the history of Europe more than any other history. Yet there could be certain issues, some intricate nuances which maybe very crucial to the local culture but I may miss the signals. I request all of you to stand by me and the Academy in this tenure and guide us to more clarity and more creative interactions – with the city, with the citizens, with the non-citizens.

In 2018 the Academy enters a new phase in its programme plan. In this tenure we plan to work towards facilitating dialogues between local experiences and the international discourses and practices. Regular and continuing interfaces will be generated between the specific or generic realities of the local, and the discourses and action strategies collated from the world practices in the 2018-2020 programme. A comprehensive and multi-layered scheme weaving through production, collaboration, compilation, pedagogy, and archiving is being developed through 4 thematic Axes:

found:erased:palimpsest

It is a project of pedagogy and public art. Under this programme a participatory and open access digital project of archiving Cultures Cologne will be initiated in collaboration with academic institutions, cultural centres, documentary initiatives, community organisations, and individual artistes and archivists.

Sites at Stake

A site is the base, the frame and also the content. Site specificity is an oft-used term in contemporary cultural practices. Yet a site is also infested with issues of colonial anthropology, capitalist ventures, state mandate, culture of amnesia, hierarchy of land use and parochial identity. This project will be dedicated to indexing the various stakes that work in the making and un-making of a site.

Festival of Original Fakes

This inter-disciplinary annual programme will celebrate creativity that functions beyond the field of authorship. The idea is to engage with the act of copy through various registers - traditional & social practice, upcycling-recycling, subversion-inversion, industrial artisanal, democracy of technology, appropriation-reappropriation and et al.

Hybrid Transactions

Hybrid evolves through moments of transactions – between species, practices, conditions and materiality. Because of its transactional mode hybrid is always new, porous, in-negotiation and anti-legacy. This project will be dedicated to explore the meaning of hybridity in the face of unprecedented exchange of peoples, cultures, goods and aspirations in the contemporary time.

We launch this scheme at the space of Ebertplatz and in collaboration with Gold+Beton – as a definite signal to usher in new alliances and solidarity between public institutions and the independent scene / Free Scene. Thank you so much Meryem (whom I affectionately call the uncrowned queen of sub-culture in cologne) to make this actually happen. This is also an opportunity to address issues of Urban Development and Art Practices from a public platform. As you know very well this is, the Ebertplatz is - the Site at Stake. It is a common agenda for all of us and this agenda is getting increasingly urgent in today’s world. This event should be seen as our first active participation in that movement against gentrification, along with other artists, community organisations, independent art spaces, out of work working class, activists working on unravelling the NSU complex, the people who are officially called Refugees or illegal migrants. Hope from tomorrow the Ebertplatz-loyalists will be little more institution-friendly and Akademy der Künste der Welt will be little lighter on its feet, and a little closer to the street. I should not forget to thank people. My thanks go to Jürgen Stollhans for allowing us to use his images in my video and of course to my team and everyone who helped us realise tonight’s programme in one or the other way. I also take this opportunity to profusely thank all the fellow artists and art institutions that firmly stood in support of the Academy during the recent finance crisis and the political campaign that followed. This is an Academy that belongs to the city of Cologne.