In his work, photographer Arne Schmitt is concerned primarily with ideological imprints in urban spaces. He is one of the invited artists who were given a specific assignment: Is it possible to make large herds of pigs visible at “eye level”? How can they be recognised? The photographs of the pig fattening, piglet rearing and biogas production sites of the LFD-Holding / Terra Grundwerte AG company network (a network difficult to unravel on the Web) show inconspicuous functional buildings planted in unspectacular landscapes. Photography as a medium of visualisation here illustrates impalpability: the German market leader is almost invisible. A text integrated into the series of images identifies the difficulties involved in the research and supplies facts from press releases. Schmitt also photographs the company headquarters of the new owner – and does so in color: the green lights up and the modern office architecture stands out against the radiant blue sky. At the time of the change of ownership, the address of the new owner matched that of Urs Küchler Treuhand AG, a “trust specialist” that advertises on its website the extra-low taxes in the Swiss canton of Obwalden.¹ The company website is emblazoned with the image of a village idyll of the 20th or 19th century.
But the “invisibility” of meat production is also evident on another level, for the communities in the neighborhood of the large East German plants show no signs of benefiting from the “pig money”. This distinguishes them significantly from West German centres of meat production. There, an until recently prosperous pig farming industry with small-scale ownership and a return flow of profits to the region contributed to their affluence.
¹ In 2008, Obwalden voted for a flat rate tax of 1.8 per cent. The profit tax on corporations was reduced from 6.8 to 6 per cent. Cf. website of Urs Küchler Treuhand AG, https://www.kuechler-treuhand.ch/de/steuerparadies-ow/flatrate-tax (retrieved: 9.5.2023).
A one-week trip in a hire car through rural northern and eastern Germany, in autumn 2022. The starting point was a list of addresses of pig rearing and fattening facilities, all owned by LFD Holding GmbH (LFD = Landwirtschaftliche Ferkelzucht Deutschland = Agricultural Piglet Rearing Germany). In connection with the exhibition ocular witness: PIG CONCIOUSNESS (2023), I was asked to photograph these installations in order to testify to the sheer existence of something that at times only seems to be an abstract part of an opaque corporate network.
In 1999, Dutch entrepreneur Adrianus Straathof started buying up pig farms in Germany on a grand scale, originally under the name of Straathof Holding GmbH. Most of the farms are located in East Germany, some of them going back to pre-reunification times. In response to various court actions against his person and his company, extensive restructuring got underway in 2014, from which LFD Holding GmbH with various subsidiaries emerged. This allowed the business to continue to operate despite the legally binding injunctions.
The list of violations of animal welfare, fire protection, environmental and other legal regulations is long. These reached their peak in March 2021 with the major fire at a pig farm in Alt-Tellin that killed 50,000 animals. At various locations, animal rights activists, local politicians and citizens are mobilising to oppose the farms and their plans for expansion because of cruel husbandry methods, pollution of the soil and groundwater, and wear and tear on transport infrastructure.
Despite major investigative efforts, it has not been possible to break down the ownership and operational structure of the holding company to any great degree. Many uncertainties have remained and some addresses have led nowhere: to fields or ruined buildings with unclear purposes or significance.
In March 2020, LFD Holding GmbH was sold to Terra Grundwerte AG founded in November 2019 that acts as the sole investor. This process was facilitated by KSB INTAX through JLW Holding AG. The tax domicile is Switzerland – more precisely the district of K.giswil in the municipality of Sarnen in the canton of Obwalden, which advertises highly business-friendly tax rates.
The offices of Terra Grundwerte AG, on the first floor of a fa.ade construction company, appear to be empty.
Arne Schmitt, 2023
Born in 1984, Mayen, DE; lives in Cologne und Zurich, CH
• 2005–2011 Studied photography at the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig • 2011/12 Studied photography at the Hogeschool Sint-Lukas, Brussels • 2014/15 and 2016/17 Guest chair at HFBK Hamburg
E 2023 Ein Verhältnis, das wir ersehnen, Jacky Strenz, Frankfurt am Main, DE (SE) • 2022 Identität nicht nachgewiesen. Neuerwerbungen der Sammlung des Bundes, Bundeskunsthalle Bonn (C) • 2021 Zum Gedanken der aktiven Minderheit, station urbaner kulturen Berlin (SE) • 2020 Räson, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum Ludwigshafen, DE (SE) • 2019 Zeichen der Zeit. Zur Geschichte eines geschichtslosen Gebiets genannt Parkstadt Schwabing, Kunstraum München (Munich) (SE) (C) • 2017 The Photographic I – Other Pictures, Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent (C)
P Ein öffentlicher Text, Leipzig, 2021 • Basalt. Ursprung Gebrauch Überhöhung, Leipzig, 2018 • Geräusch einer fernen Brandung, Leipzig, 2014