Labor 1932

The Memorial

Commemorating the victims of forced labor

In commemoration of the victims of forced labor at I.G. Farben, Bayer AG has inaugurated a place of remembrance in Leverkusen, Germany, in May 2023. Pointing in the directions of the former Lower Rhine sites of I.G. Farben, the five-metre-tall sculpture is an artistic translation of personal notes, corporate records and historical data from the Bayer archives. It documents the fates of around 16,000 forced laborers.

 

Not as a static memorial, but as an organic sculpture, it repeatedly calls for an examination of the history of I.G. Farben during the Second World War. While the polished stainless-steel surfaces will remain unchanged, the use of untreated woods and seeds, sown in and around the sculpture, will lead to the sculpture transforming over time.

The Memorial

The Idea of the Memorial

Insights into the different realities of forced labor

By making use of the original historical records on approximately 16,000 forced laborers from the Bayer archives that once were deployed in and around Leverkusen, the idea was to create a place to reflect individual fates. 

Matthias Berninger

“We believe that art is a suitable way to commemorate the crimes of forced labor that were committed during the Second World War. It was important for us as a company to create a place of corporate and individual remembrance. We wanted to acknowledge our responsibility for the consequences of the injustices of the past by fostering a proactive, self-reflective attitude to the legacy of I.G. Farben”. 

Matthias Berninger, EVP, Head of Public Affairs, Science, Sustainability & HSE.

The available historic records provide clues to the individual fates of the victims of forced labor from the perspective of I.G. Farben. While collecting the data and compiling the data set, we came across names, ages, demographics, and the whereabouts of many forced laborers. The data provide insights into the different realities of forced labor. 

The Physical Construction

Plants and other living organisms will alter the memorial forever

The construction and form of the sculpture presents the data in various ways: physically, virtually, and as living, growing nature. The core of the sculpture is comprised of polished steel plates. The wooden structure on which living plants are embedded represents the complex reality of the forced labourers lives. Over time, plants and other living organisms will change the memorial and alter it forever. This temporal dimension is aimed at grasping the continuous change we are all subject to: unlike static data and the past, the memorial will change, just like the rest of the world, and will thus remind all employees and visitors that remembering the past is imperative, especially when looking at the future.

Digital Augmentation

Decoding the memorial's physical structure  

The installation is accompanied by a web-app which decodes the meaning of the archive data and documents the transformation process of the sculpture, recorded by a time-lapse camera. Due to unpredictable changes of decomposition and plant growth, the sculpture will remember the victims in ever new ways. 

 

Through the app, the data can be accessed in various ways, from spatial references and demographic details to individual quotes from the database. A 3D model of the sculpture transforms the perspective and shows how the data was processed in different ways. 

3D model of the sculpture

The physical memorial is augmented by an app that helps decipher its unique form. © ART + COM

ART + COM Studios

The creative minds behind the memorial 

 

The memorial was designed and built by an interdisciplinary group of artists and designers in cooperation with Studio Milz. The project was led by Professor Jussi Ängeslevä from ART+COM Studios. Their intent was to create a physical and artistic interpretation of a dataset containing information on the approximately 16,000 forced laborers at I.G. Farben from the Bayer archives. 

Jussi Ängeslevä

"During the creational process of the memorial at Bayer Headquarters in Leverkusen, we asked ourselves how we can humbly yet truly contribute to a culture of remembrance. We wanted to make the fates and realities of forced laborers explicit, by providing different points of identification for those looking at the memorial.” 

Professor Jussi Ängeslevä, ART+COM Studios

The computationally designed sculpture of wood, steel and living plants will intentionally transform over time due to the forces of nature, reminding employees and visitors that remembering the past is imperative when thinking of the future.