I spent a few days last week trying to keep my head above water at the 39th Medica Fair held at the Düsseldorf Messe Centre. With more than 4300 companies exhibiting their products to around 137000 visitors, Medica is the world’s largest medical fair and allows close inspection of (literally) everything from hospital ventilation systems over chemical analyzers to band aids.
The purpose of my visit was two-fold. First, how do medicotechnical companies display their products, set up exhibits, and breathe attractiveness into instruments, software, and utensils that they wish to sell; second, how, in terms of design and marketing, do exhibitors differentiate their particular products from those of compeeting companies. To my defense, it should be noted that I actually tried to pursue these two goals with some degree of perseverance. But to be honest, a lot of the time I was simply drawn in by the magnitude of the event, the endless number of objects on display, and the range of different products that somehow come together under the heading of modern medicine.
Still, I did find it quite rewarding to wander around the booths and look at the ways in which companies present their products. Clearly, materiality is at the forefront of this way of engaging with biomedicine. Often, objects line the perimiter of the booth (check out the line of heavy artillery in the picture below) and must be negotiated before you encounter softer materials, such as flyers, information, and sales persons.
Of course, this setup is not intended to fight off potential customers. Rather, it emphasizes the invitation put forward in most booths to interact with the product, to touch, handle, and inspect objects and only then move to the level of meaning, interpretation, and negotiation. The booth below will let you perform laparascopic surgery on a capsicum, and then sit you down and talk about the experience if you like;
and this one lets you try out electrosurgery on a piece of bacon:
Anyway, there is a lot more to be said about the exhibition strategies displayed at Medica and of the thoughts it provoked in me about what the recent biomedical heritage actually is, and I will post some more digested impressions shortly.