Renewable Matter # 06-07 / October-December

Expo: A (Partially) Untold Story

by Federico Pedrocchi

I visited Expo 2015 four times, and naturally I went with an awareness of the various arguments raised in the debate over what the universal exhibit should have been, and what actually is.

Critics like to begin by noting the absence of a coordinated message addressing the great global crises concerning the world’s food supply. In fact, such questions do receive attention here and there at Expo, and one must keep in mind that the event is spread out over five months, but it is true that there is no dedicated framework designed to emphasize them.

It is worth wondering, however, which media platform should have been used to communicate this neglected story. Then there is another issue, that of the event’s sponsors, who allegedly are the source of Expo’s “business oriented” approach. What is there to say? It seems unnecessary to me at this point to discuss the need for sponsorship – with a few exceptions, obviously – partly beacuse I believe that in the controlled chaos of an event like Expo, with 200,000 visitors every day, the actual visibility of any individual sponsor is decidedly rather low: amid a great flood of people, the “mark” of a sponsor is lost. As an aside, at the French pavilion (one of the most interesting in terms of sustainability, among other things) visitors were visibly perplexed when, in a case of infelicitous arrangement, they found themselves suddenly confronted with a great display of female undergarments – some of them for sale – which was difficult to reconcile with the rest of the pavilion. It was, of course, the sponsor.

I do not believe that more direct marketing in the vein of specific exhibits related to world hunger would have achieved the critics’ objectives. The public that attends a world’s fair is tuned in to other frequencies. A spectacular, yet accurate, discussion of the themes dear to this journal when it comes to all matters related to food: a dedicated space on these matters, so fundamental for the earth’s energy balances – that would have been nice.

Then there is a fact that is difficult to avoid: Expo is a magnificent whirl of faces of all shapes and colours, the music of a hundred different languages, different clothes, hairstyles, shoes (I think it’s only right to also notice these details that distinguish the many tribes of our species). Well, in these times that are so precarious for everything other than us, this great concentration of diversity sends a vitally important, if unconscious, message. Now, when darkness falls at Expo, thousands of people gather around the Tree of Life in the Italian pavilion to watch a spectacle of light and sound. This is a moment that could have been used to narrate the great themes, both common – that is, touching all of us – and emotionally resonant, something that speaks to the present and future, tracing positive and optimistic visions, even, beginning with the things that we all can do. Five months of little mini-gatherings of global communities, with the power of multimedia to transcend linguistic barriers – it is possible, there are many fine examples – or to revolve around our many differences; that would have been an extremely valuable contribution.

By way of conclusion, a suggestion to those in charge of the Italian pavilion. In the small hall dedicated to explaining how human existence might have unfolded without Italy, there is a bas-relief map of Europe where the boot and its islands are all missing. The room is a monument to a tragic and incomprehensible notion. That said, they also left out Malta, down there alongside Lampedusa and Pantelleria. They should put it back. Or, better still, they should close down altogether.