Installations, videos and projects in public space

by Oliver Ressler

The Visible and the Invisible


A film by Oliver Ressler, 20 min., 2014

In recent years, Switzerland has become the global center for commodity trading. In no other country are more commodities bought and sold than in Switzerland; nevertheless, the crude oil, copper, aluminum, coal or wheat never reaches Swiss territory because the deals are carried out completely in a virtual world. Despite its importance for the Swiss and the global economy, the public knows very little about these secret transactions.

The headquarters of the commodity groups, which are among the most profitable companies in the world, often lie in the upper floors of office buildings in the commodity-hub Geneva or in the case of Glencore Xstrata in the canton of Zug, a tax haven. In these places, the traders go about their profitable business, undisturbed and largely invisible to the public. This relative invisibility in Switzerland lies in contrast with the visible, often catastrophic impact that the mining and trade of raw materials under neocolonial conditions has for people, the environment and the states in the zones of extraction concentrated in the global South.

The film “The Visible and the Invisible,” whose title quotes a book of the same name by the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, addresses a relationship of exploitation between the toxic industries and inhumane jobs in the global South and the gigantic profits from commodity trading in the hands of a few persons in the global North. The film presents a field of view, obscured by smoke, that also points to the toxic emissions associated with the production in southern places; these images are interwoven with images of corporate headquarters located in Switzerland with unprepossessing name plates of Vitol, Trafigura, Mercuria, Gunvor, Litasco, Bunge and Dreyfus. The film thematizes, with reference of commodity trading, how the wealth in the North relates to poverty in the South; it undermines a dominant capitalist myth that northern “victimless” prosperity could not be causally related to southern poverty.