Fabrikanten & Manipulanten
An exhibition on the history of the Eastern Switzerland's textile industry
For English-speaking people, part of the title of the exhibition may strike a chord. Not the first word, which is local dialect and means as much as “threaded” (as in needle), but the second and third words: Fabrikanten will easily be decoded as “manufacturers”, which makes sense, and Manipulanten as “manipulators” – but then who would manipulate what in the textile industry, and quite officially into the bargain? The question is soon answered, for the term – which actually even sounds curious in modern German – used to denote the contractors, without whom the other protagonists of the exhibition, namely the workers, designers, inventors and entrepreneurs, would have found it difficult to operate at all. These protagonists’ eventful and often also difficult history is illustrated by embroideries and fabrics from the 16th century to the present day, complemented by machines, photographs, archive materials and media. A gallery of clothes from the Biedermeier epoch until the present day concludes the exhibition.
In the course of the centuries, the industry was repeatedly confronted with challenges in the form of social and political upheavals, economic downturns or international conflicts. In the long run, only those companies which managed to survive who developed appropriate reactions to market requirements and suitable strategies for crisis management. The relationships between the groupings involved in the production process were not always without conflict. Cooperation was subject to societal change and was characterised by inequality and dependences for a long time. Sales crises hit the workers, particularly those working at home, far more severely than affluent entrepreneurs. Despite all this, the system that had been established in the course of the centuries, as well as its traditions, safeguarded the success of Eastern Switzerland’s textile industry until the global mechanisms of the 20th and 21st centuries began to bite here, too.