Undercurrents at Expo 2010, Shanghai

There’s something paradoxical about the annual World Expo.  Nations strive to set up (normally) exciting and futuristic pavillions, the host nation focuses on the favourable future for themselves and everyone else concerned: technology, design, art, environment – meeting national identity.  This year’s Expo is in Shanghai and features such exciting treats as Germany’s Balancity and Maldives’ Tomorrow (which focuses on environment, making me cry a little – bless them!)  China is getting a Pavillion for pretty much every province and major city, which is reasonable I suppose since they’re hosting the thing.  Among these is the confidence inducing New Tibet, Better Life.  Estonia’s Save City looks interesting and suffocatingly topical – yes, that is ‘Save’ as in save money!  And I’m sure you’ve already seen the Iran and North Korea pavillions, humorously juxtaposed.

All forward looking, friendly stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree, but I’ve always had a feeling that the Expo has never really moved beyond the Victorian era.  It was founded then, of course, apparently Prince Albert’s idea.  The idea that you exhibit new technologies and sciencific and aesthetic advances, if it originates in that era, is not the issue.  The issue is that nations set up their own pavillions, displaying a watered down version of their national identity and often couching it in these technological and aesthetic advancements.

One gets the feeling that in this respect the Expo has never lost that ambition, that competitive sense that the world is caught up in an unstoppable process that will eventually lead to excessive imperialism that will cave in on itself and finally cause two world wars!  Well, the world isn’t quite like that any more.  At least industrial powers have figured out that it’s not advantageous to pound each other to mutual poverty and thereby waive superpower status and generally end up embarassed.

The world expo is very much 21st cenutry in China, but is still 19th century when it comes to coolness.  We’re used to receiving our aesthetic, technological pleasures from large multinationals these days, so the nation-state focus naturally bamboozles one a little.  Not so much Apple as Eritrea.  So, traditions and things from Spain pavillion?  No: futuristic things.  What?

Actually, to be more specific, a giant robotic baby from the dark pit of your worst nightmare.  Imagine this thing crawling along, upside-down with its head facing the wrong way, on your ceiling!

I’ve never seen a baby with an eviler look on its face!  Think I’m being harsh? Okay then, go ahead and instead imagine it in a cot, gurgling away, in  your house, crying in the middle of the night!  Fancy that?!

Don’t get me wrong, I’d absolutely love to go.  Some of these pavilions look truly amazing.  But listen: I’d also like to watch Isambard Kingdom Brunel building a bridge, or have dinner with Queen Victoria.  Maybe the darker side of my personality would even like to see Franz Ferdinand assasinated, just to be there, you know?  But I’d rather do this without all the nationalism, thanks very much.

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