Expo 70 palimpsest (2)


IMG_2126.JPGIMG_2124.JPGIMG_2130.JPGIMG_2140.JPGRiding the Osaka Wheel takes you up above the Expo 70 Commemorative Park and you end up looking down on Okamoto Taro’s famous Tower of the Sun, the centerpiece of the 1970 World Exposition in Osaka, as if from a helicopter. I’ve already written about the way in which the traces of the Expo can be read on the surface skin of the park as a kind of archeological record of future past, but riding the Osaka Wheel accentuates this effect. Looking over at the park its easy to imagine the grounds covered in the futuristic forms of the national pavilions, and crowds massing through through the entrance gates to get a closer look at the Tower of the Sun.

The gondolas of the Osaka Wheel have glass bottoms, so as they lift you out and away from the boarding platform you can look down at the bicycles parked below as they get smaller and smaller, their repetitive shapes forming an inadvertent Andreas Gursky photograph. Looking back in the direction of Expo Park you can see the monorail station and the tracks snaking off into the distance, towards their terminal stop at Osaka Itami Airport. In the other direction Osaka sprawls out between mountain ranges, a congeries of concrete, steel, plaster, and glass that perfectly embodies Manuel De Landa’s figuration of the city as a kind of human exoskeleton. In A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, De Landa writes about the mineralization of soft organic tissue and the aftereffects of this event, including the ultimate appearance of the nodal urban exoskeletons that we live in now:

In the organic world, for instance, soft tissue (gels and aerosols, muscle and nerve) reigned supreme until 500 million years ago. At that point, some of the conglomerations of fleshy matter-energy that made up life underwent a sudden mineralization, and a new material for constructing living creatures emerged: bone. It is almost as if the mineral world that had served as a substratum for the emergence of biological creatures was reasserting itself, confirming that geology, far from having been left behind as a primitive stage of the earth’s evolution, fully coexisted with the soft, gelatinous newcomers.

And slightly later:

The human endoskeleton was one of the many products of that ancient mineralization. Yet that is not the only geological infiltration that the human species has undergone. About eight thousand years ago, human populations began mineralizing again when they developed an urban exoskeleton: bricks of sun-dried clay became the building materials of their homes, which in turn surrounded and were surrounded by stone monuments and defensive walls. The exoskeleton served a purpose similar to its internal counterpart: to control the movement of human flesh in and out of a town’s walls. The urban exoskeleton also regulated the motion of many other things: luxury objects, news, and food, for example.

The sprawling carapace of a city that fills the valley zone between central Osaka and Kyoto is itself a kind of palimpsest, the mineralized expression of the historical trade along the Yodo River that made Osaka a commercial powerhouse, beginning in the Heian period. The paths of this early trade are duplicated in the train lines that run between Osaka and Kyoto today, following the path of the watershed that originates at Lake Biwa and eventually runs out into Osaka Bay. This watershed provides the drinking water for some 24 million people and is the hydrological circulation system that keeps the city alive.

The Osaka Wheel takes about twenty minutes to complete a single rotation, moving your field of vision from Rokko Mountain and the Kobe area, through to downtown Osaka, and then finally to the sprawling zone that extends out towards Mount Ikoma, on the border of Nara Prefecture. There’s plenty to take in.

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


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