chapter  8
20 Pages

The Shaping of Things to Come: Expo '88

Expositions are among the most distinctive of moderni ty's symbolic inventions in that, as contrived events looking for apretext to happen, they have been obliged to seek the occasions for their staging outside themselves. While by no means solely so , the most favoured candidate for this role has been that other symbolic invention of modernity, the national celebration. The Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, marking a century of American independence, thus counts as the first in a long line of expositions held in conjunction with celebrations marking the passage of national time. The Melbourne International Exhibition held in 1888 in association with the first centenary of Australia's European settlement; the Exposition Universelle held in Paris the following year as apart of the centenary of the French Revolution; and Expo '67, hosted by Montreal in the midst of Canada's first centennial celebrations, are a few examples that might be cited. Even where the connection has not been so direct as in these instances, expositions have usually sought some way of inserting themselves into the symbolic rhythms of national histories . Ch icago 's 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition was thus staged to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus 's discovery of the Arnericas, while the New York World's Fair of 1939 sought its national legitimation in the sesquicentenary of Washington's presidential inauguration. I

Yet it is only rarely that the synchronization of these two kinds of events has resulted in their symbolic fusion . Indeed, and especially in the twentieth century, thei r simultaneity has more often served to mark the differences between them , throwing into relief the contrivance of their association . For while both events are the progenies of modernity, they are ultimately conceived and organized in relation to different times. If centennial celebrations and the like tick to the clock of the nation, marking its passage through calendrical time in drawing up symbolic inventories of its achievements, expositions tick to the international time of modernity itself. They mark the passage of progress, a time without frontiers, whi1e the inventories they organize are, at least ideally, ones which mark the achievements of the nationally undifferentiated subject of humanity.