Expo 70 palimpsest (1)


IMG_2092.JPGIMG_2084.JPGIMG_2115.JPGIMG_2119.JPGA visit to the Expo 70 Commemoration Park is a visit to the ruins of the future. The 1970 World Expo held in Osaka was one of the last great future-oriented modernist productions held on an international scale. The theme of the Expo was “Progress and Harmony for Mankind,” a vision of a united humanity that chimes sympathetically with the contemporary ethos of Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek, but feels far, far away from the fragmented and difficult present we find ourselves in now.

Still, I like to think that the Expo 70 Park holds below it’s surface the palimpsestic bones of a future that yet may still be realized, though clearly in a different form than the plastic pop future of washing machines for humans, inflatable plastic pavilions, and the mini-skirted psychedelia of the 21st century as imaged through the conceptual lens of Swinging London.

The architectural models pictured above can be found in the Expo 70 Pavilion, a museum dedicated to documenting the Expo experience. The building itself is the former Steel Pavilion, designed by Kunio Maekawa, and the theme of the building was centered around the idea of a “Song of Steel.” A small orchestra of futuristic musical instruments designed by Francois Baschet was exhibited and a few of the percussive horns, which can still be played by visitors, are to be found in the lobby of the Expo 70 Pavilion. In the center of the building is the Space Theater, which is registered in the official Pavilion pamphlet as “the first stereophonic music hall in the world”: a galaxy of speakers hang from the ceiling of a round auditorium in which a variety of concerts were performed, as well as a pretty psychedelic light show. Unfortunately, the sound system no longer functions.

As you walk through Expo 70 Park you can imagine the fullness of the Expo by the pieces that remain, and through the infrastructural residues that have shaped the surrounding area (I’m looking at you, Osaka Monorail). Just across from the current site of the Expo Park is a new shopping center, Expo City, that is built on the old bones of what was once the Expoland amusement park. Where the Expoland Ferris wheel once stood, now stands the Osaka Wheel, Japan’s largest Ferris wheel. Riding up in the Ferris wheel, already the ghostly palimpsest of the preexisting Ferris wheel, you can see the patterns of infrastructure below — the traces of what has been erased, what remains, and a past that is a future that the future might still become.

(You can read Part II of this two-part entry here.)


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