SpruceRoots Magazine - September/October 2000
Humankind, Nature and Technology
by Astrid Greene
Conceived as a showcase for the New Millennium, it is ironic that EXPO 2000 will result in a massive debt. As a rule, world expositions are not great money-makers and organisers for this German exposition budgeted to lose $260 million, but the figure is now estimated to be closer to $2.4 billion. Previous fairs in Seville in 1992 and Lisbon in 1998 also resulted in financial loss. To think that Hanover won the competition to host EXPO by just one vote over its opponent Toronto, impresses the need for improved risk calculations upon future bid committees.
Many commentators have speculated about the reasons for this current financial mess. Some blame an arrogant attitude on part of the organisers when it came to advertising and setting prices. As it turned out, most families felt they could not afford the high entrance fee of $49.00 per person a day, even though bus tours and reduced train fares were put in place to make a visit to EXPO more accessible. Others said that in this age of technology and with the official EXPO website displaying film clips, potential visitors had a virtual experience without having to set foot in Hanover.
This is the first time Germany has hosted the world's fair, coming one hundred and fifty years after the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry and All Nations held in London in 1851. In the EXPO-Guide: the Official Guide to EXPO 2000 it says that this year's concept is, "Not an industrial show or an amusement park, but visions and practical examples for the co-existence of six billion people, models for the balance between humankind, nature and technology."
Following the closure of EXPO on October 31 pavilions will be reused, redeveloped, and recycled. An example of such recycling is Japan's pavilion. Using a paper tube technique, Japan built its pavilion from recycled paper. Paper membranes allowed natural light to enter the hall and the effect was very soothing, like a lampshade. Upon closure of EXPO, the paper tubes will be sent to a paper mill for recycling.
Exhibitors were asked to observe their impact on the environment and the fair was placed on an existing site, keeping, to a minimum, the clearing of new land. Thinking about Haida Gwaii where we can still see and be in the rainforest, it was a curious experience to be on the 160 hectare site, where efforts were taken to plant green areas. The naming of one of the green spaces The United Trees Avenue is suggestive enough and in a 900 metre area visitors can find 273 types of trees native to the Northern Hemisphere.
With each new display, I was reminded that sustainability can take on different forms in different countries, and that the term means different things to different people. Some contributors were concerned with resource depletion and future generations, while others would touch on the inequity between rich and poor nations and their submissions touched on how sustainable development should take into account the adverse effects of globalisation on a country's economy.
After a long hot day of walking, we sat in one of the grassy areas and in the distance we could see wind powered energy generation, often seen on sites of higher elevation in Germany. A progression of exciting displays left me exhausted, yet unlike after a long period of netsurfing, I could still take in smells, feel the crowds, feel my feet, and see the models But, just like netsurfing, pavilion hopping doesn't leave much time for reflection.
As a visitor to EXPO, I was part of a privileged group-a privilege that became obvious as I entered the pavilion of Albania. With its past policy of rarely granting visas to visitors, Albania was always a mystery to me. The beauty of the landscape of lagoons and lakes rich in waterfowl is juxtaposed against the country's sad history. Bunkers are still spread throughout Albania and the one reconstructed for the fair made me feel claustrophobic. Rays of light entering the dome through slits symbolised a glimmer of hope.
At home when I heard of a Haida delegation going to EXPO, I mentioned to Lucille Bell, who was co-ordinating the trip, that my family and I would be vacationing in Germany at the time and perhaps we could meet the group after their performance. With her unique sense of practicality, Lucille Bell decided to put us to work! In exchange for helping the dance group Tling Jiingaas (In a Far Country) with changing regalia and taking pictures, we received a pass to EXPO. Tling Jingaas was asked to perform at the Canadian pavilion and the EXPO plaza, especially on Canada Day. They joined the Ottawa based Air Command Pipes and Drums, Aqsarniit, three Inuit drummers and throat singers, as well as violinists the Galaxy Trio.
The Canada Pavilion, the second largest on-site, was designed as a virtual river. Five hundred monitors and slide projectors took visitors through seasonal changes and then flowed into a 360 degree cinema in which a multi-sensory show explores Canadian know-how and natural resources.
The Haida dance performance drew an appreciative crowd and visitors gathered by the display of Haida art. Yet, with a lot of the theatre being organised around Nunavut, Tling Jingaas performed Haida dances with a model Inukshuk stone sculpture in the background.
German Ideas Workshop, was the host country's theme, showing 47 busts at various stages of completion. These sculptures portrayed German people who had a positive influence on the country, but they were not meant to be a museum or hall of fame. I walked on the catwalks to an area of where screens covered 360 degrees of a room. Six bridges gave access to an 'experience space' and no matter where people were standing they experienced the performance. Viewing some of the scenes depicting apartment block windows, I felt reminded, vaguely, of movie scenes and audience voyeurism.
Countries like Vanuatu are grappling with familiar themes of environmental conservation, reef protection and their pavilion was set up as huts in villages around a sand centre. Speaking of sand: the United Arab Emirates had ordered a shipment of sand to surround their pavilion which cleaning crews promptly removed and a new order had to be flown in. With 180 Nations participating, there was a curious mixture between space-age technology and traditional methods. Some of the poorer countries presented technologies that had stood the test of time. Some of the highly industrialised nations are beginning to realise how these technologies are closer to achieving the goal of sustainability.
A nightly 35 minute multi-media spectacle brought the day to a close. Gathered around an artificial lake, actors worked with video, water, gas projection to create an experience uniting art, technology and nature. Flambee, as the show is called, takes place at sundown. Seating was provided for 10,000 spectators and you had to arrive early to see the show which had both a good and a bad weather version. Before we ever made it into the show, we caught a glimpse from one of the cable cars overhead and the sound effects and lights were truly spectacular.
Even in the five days spent there, I hadn't studied all the exhibits, although I got an idea about recurring themes and questions posed about how we use energy and resources in a way that won't be detrimental to future generations.
The fair introduces visitors to many countries such as the kingdom of Bhutan whose pavilion was made in the shape of a traditional Lhakang, a temple made of wood and clay. Bhutan's contribution had to do with the deforestation of their countryside. Venezuela's pavilion was very appealing in that it had plants set up around a giant flower with ten metre-long petals. Visitors could tell from the position of the petals what the weather would be like. The effect of plants and water gave the structure a feeling of lushness.
As a parent, I found that EXPO organisers had thought about play areas for children, as well as a day-care centre for those children weary of standing in line with their parents.
Environmental youth teams had been invited to exchange ideas and to learn from one another.
A dance performance by Israeli youth and Palestinian youth had both sharing a stage and teaching each other their dance steps. Other spaces were left for artists and a solid string of performers would not leave anyone wanting. I was sorry to have missed by a few days one of the grand spectacles. It was a performance of Faust by the German poet Goethe. Dramaturge Peter Stein staged it in a twenty-one hour performance including the breaks. To my knowledge this was the first time ever that the play had been performed in its entirety. In Faust, Goethe tackles questions of knowledge, individual responsibility, the genesis of the earth, life-forms, as well as Greek antiquity.
At the 2000 EXPO I appreciated the displays aimed at solutions within the theme of humankind, nature and technology. And as for the plugged-in web version, for me, it just wouldn't be the same. Would I go again? Definitely! Would I comply with paying taxes to lessen some of the financial deficits? Not likely But the last question assumes individual control over how taxes are spent and that is a wholly different discussion. ::
If you want to have a virtual EXPO-visit go to:
< http://www.EXPO2000.de/home_40_e.html >
SpruceRoots Magazine - September/October 2000