Installations, videos and projects in public space

by Oliver Ressler

Focus on Companies


A contribution by Oliver Ressler to the exhibition “Modell, Modell…” by the Neuer Aachener Kunstverein in Germany, which took place at various institutes of the RWTH Aachen in spring 2000.

“Focus on Companies” referred to an exhibition taking place at the same time in Aachen, “Focus on Genes”. “Focus on Genes” is a travelling exhibition put together by the socio-culturally agile Hygiene-Museum in Dresden which attempts to represent genetic engineering “in a popular scientific and experience oriented way.”

According to the announcement of the project, the “fundamental contents of the exhibition, ‘Focus on Genes’ are dealt with in great detail in a richly illustrated catalogue which was published in the framework of the ‘Gene-Worlds’ project in 1998.” Similar to this preceding exhibition from the Hygiene-Museum, once again knowledge about genetic engineering should be presented for “forming your own opinion” and coming closer to the goal of “weighing out the chances and risks which the use of genetic engineering offers from a medical, ethical and social perspective.”

To provide a counterpoint to the five “Gene-Worlds” (“Gen-Welten”) exhibitions shown in Germany and Switzerland, in 1998 I simultaneously realized the project “antiGene Worlds: Oppositions to Genetic Engineering“.* In a text published in the context of this project** I pointed out that the concept of “Gene-Worlds” is based on the false assumption that individuals can contribute to the decisions made about which technologies are implemented and which are not. The decisions about these things are not made in a democratic way, but, rather, in connection with powerful financial interests and the political pressure from companies. In both “Gene-Worlds” and “Focus on Genes,” the exhibition’s role consists solely in creating acceptance!

The project “Focus on Companies” therefore put those companies which advance genetic engineering research and product development at the center of critique.

The starting point for the print series on aluminum produced for the exhibition in Aachen were current publications from companies such as Novartis, Schering, Bio-Rad Laboratories and Roche, which appeared as sponsors for “Focus on Genes”. Selected pages from company reports and brochures were chosen whereby the original texts which thematize the various areas within genetic engineering are replaced by black framed yellow text fields.

In contrast to the “warning signs” of the “antiGene Worlds” project, the dangers which arise from the technologies themselves are not at the center but rather the ecological and social logic of genetic engineering and its global, socio-political effects. For such areas there is no place either in the publications of the companies or in “Focus on Genes”.

Therefore, the texts of the companies’ brochures are covered over with a political commentary which takes up various themes from the exhibition (Xenotransplantations, Gentech-rice with Vitamin A, anti-squash tomatoes) and takes on other perspectives.

* Oliver Ressler, geGen-Welten: Widerstände gegen Gentechnologien, Edition Selene, 1998, 84 pages.

** Various versions were printed in the “antiGene Worlds”-publication, in the magazines ak – analyse & kritik, iz3w – Blätter des Informationszentrums 3. Welt and in the GID – Gen-ethischer Informationsdienst.