The exhibition Global Players at the Kunstverein Ludwigshafen is edicated to the connections between photography, economy and globality. This narrative begins locally, in Mannheim, Heidelberg and Ludwigshafen, during the economic revival of the 1950s, which was achieved in large part through the recruitment of foreign workers, as part of Germany’s recruitment agreements. In the exhibition, pictures from private photo archives provide an insight into the lives of these families and the photographic practises connected to their migration. Within this historical setting the artist Arne Schmitt has produced a commissioned work which highlights both the institutional aspect of this mobilisation and its visibility within the cityscape. The curator of the exhibition, Kerstin Meincke, adressed questions to the artist:
Questions to Arne Schmitt
Q The chemical company BASF in Ludwigshafen, to this day the largest employer in the region, is central to your project. What role does the BASF play for you within the theme of this exhibition?
A As I read about the development of the BASF as a large global corporation after World War II, how they were not only successfully founding factories and sales offices (almost literally) all over the world, but also buying up or joining other companies through share capital, I became interested in this almost reversed movement concerning the subject of the so-called foreign workers:
the traditional Ludwigshafen company is sending its own labour force, knowledge, products and capital into the world ̶ while at the same time numerous workers from foreign countries are arriving in Ludwigshafen. The various company magazines and employee newspapers provide detailed information about this movement through images and text, and they do so with a specific “rhetoric”. This “rhetoric” constitutes the first part of my work: how did the BASF frame their global expansion? How was it expressed photographically?
The second part focuses on Ludwigshafen as a city which developed rapidly during this time, due in part to the influential employer BASF: the urban development and architectural legacies of the economic miracle are still very present, albeit in varying conditions. With my own photographs, which regard this legacy from the vantage point of the present, I want to provide a local counterpart to the global activity of the company ̶ a montage of disparate times and places.
Q How do you approach this specifically?
A First of all I examined the different publications in the company archive before focusing on the BASF information, which best corresponds to the magazine culture of the time. I searched specifically for images of foreign operations and reproduced a large number of them; a cluster of images which have been reduced through a concentrated process of selection. With my own images of Ludwigshafen’s cityscape I wanted to capture, as with so many of my other works, a specific type of architecture in a way that will reveal and relate both the context of its creation and its current condition. I am especially interested in Ludwigshafen’s inner-city cultural, administrative and commercial buildings from the post-war period as well as new residential areas outside of the city centre.
Eventually, both parts have been merged and complemented with captions and titles in order to become the actual work: like I said, a process of montage.