I’ve been spending time at Expo 2015 in Milan, where the theme is “Feeding the World, Energy for Life”. There are 145 particpating countries this year from Sudan to the Holy See, from China to the Czech Republic. Plus three international organisations, several food clusters, and a dozen company-based pavilions. So in four days I have only seen a tiny proportion of the pavilions.
The most successful brought together a country’s brand, a great user experience and the Expo theme in a visionary way and then executed that vision perfectly. Here are some highlights.
This is the pavilion developed by the expo’s organisers and the UN, showing the issues around food production and use. You begin in the hall of memories, constructed like a professor’s library with hundreds of drawers, see a movie of subsistence farming and walk through a history of food production. The next rooms get your attention; one draws your attention to the incredible amounts of food waste and the second to the commodification of food supply (as shown).
The best concept on the theme of food and great execution, they showed Korean cuisine as more varied and interesting that I had realised, and they did it with technical savvy. They also managed the flow of the crowd in clever way, so that you felt that you got a good view of everything as you moved through the exhibition.
They showed that South Korea is innovative, creative and technology driven – they branded the country.
In one part of the exhibition, in a darkened room, there are 365 onggi pots, one for each dish of the traditional cuisine. These pots worked in a similar way to the Roman amphora, they were partially buried as a way of temperature control. The display cleverly used the top of each pot to display the famous dishes.
Bonus points to the South Korean team, their staff were helpful and spoke perfect English and Italian.
For me the South Korean Pavilion was the best of the best.
This was the most beautiful of all the pavilions I visited, taking you on a gentle journey from the Mediterranean to the Atlas mountains, to the Atlantic coast. Each section of the pavilion evoked a different region with a combination of images, artefacts, sounds and aromas. Throughout the exhibition were photos of Moroccan people in their various traditional dress, showing what a diversity of cultures exist across the country. Old and new cultivation methods were shown, and as you left you wandered through a small garden that had used the traditional method of irrigation.
I was left with the feeling that this is a rich and magical land, it made me want to visit even more.
The Kazakhstan pavilion took you through three parts. The first was a live show explaining the history of Kazakhstan … in sand. Using a lightbox, some sand and projector a woman created in real time a 3 minute history of her country. At the end there were shouts of “brava” from the mostly Italian crowd. In an world where everything is pre-recorded, perfected and digitised it was impressive to have a real performance.
The second part was information about food production in Kazakhstan. They grow a lot of wheat, which I think I already knew. What I didn’t know is that they have Sturgeon fish and harvest caviar; we saw some real Sturgeon fish, but no caviar. They have a lake – Lake Balkhash – that is partly salt water and partly freshwater. Final fact – all the apples in the world originate from a type of apple tree in Kazakhstan.
The third part of the exhibition is more promotional, as Kazakhstan is the host of the next Expo in 2017, but oh, what a promotion! We took our seats in a small cinema and donned 3D glasses. The screen formed a dome above us and we began a virtual trip through Kazakhstan, flying through an apple orchard, diving into Lake Balkhash, soaring over galloping horses, and twisting our way through streets of Astana. Not only was the 3D well done the floor moved gently with the action so the effect was really impressive. Even the teenager with us was impressed.
And again the staff of the pavilion were so helpful, speaking English or Italian as needed.
The Angola Pavilion was the first country pavilion I visited, and I think it provided the most information about the country, and contained a lot of activities throughout the pavilion and some special activities to help children learn.
Of all the pavilions this is the one I visited where people were the most present, and the majority of people depicted were women. In one way this makes sense as it ties to the food themes of the expo, however it’s rare – and in sharp contrast to other pavilions visited.
Before my visit the only two things I knew bout the country were – civil war and oil. But this country of 17M people has come a long way since the civil war ended in 2002. While there are still issues of corruption connected to the oil wealth, hundreds of thousands of people have resettled and re-cultivated the land and the pavilion was full of hope.
Of course a visit to the host country’s pavilion is a must. But be warned the queues are insane, it’s one of the most popular pavilions with people queueing five hours to visit it. My tip for getting to see it would be go early on a week day and go straight to the Italian Pavilion (it’s closest to the Merlata entrance and a half hour walk from the Rho entrance).
The most impressive piece of the pavilion is the hall of mirrors. Huge images from around Italy are projected on to walls and then endlessly reflected off pillars, the floors, the ceiling. Giving you the impression that you are standing in the middle of an astonishing and ever changing landscape. Even the local Italians were “oh-ing” in appreciation. Further halls focus on the beauty of architecture, and then a room focused on art – with mesmerising kaleidoscope effects.
Beyond this we entered a room focusing on Italy’s innovations in various fields of food production from sturgeon farming (using heat from a neighbouring steel plant) to bioplastics. Some truly clever people solving some of those tough problems, the Italians are rightfully proud.
Summary of the other pavilions visited
Emirates stunning architecture, followed by tiny artefacts in tiny boxes and a sentimental story about a girl who saves her grandma’s date tree.
USA still trying to save the world without mentioning those tricky three letter words; war and GMO
UK save the bees, by walking through a meadow and into a work of art. The info centre and its displays were too small for the crowds. Overall a triumph of design over sense.
Iran some stuff they had in a cupboard put on display in tiny cases.
Russia started with scientists and laboratories, ended with religious commentary on secular society.
Two that got away; Germany and Japan had queues in excess of 3 hours when I was there, but are both apparently worth seeing.