Identity In The Age Of Uncertainty

  • Abstract:

    This paper argues that there is a connection between the phenomenon of World Expositions and the construction of multiple identities. Seville ‘92, the first universal exposition after Osaka ‘70, was promoted as an exceptional opportunity for Spain to realize its longstanding ambition of a ‘bridge between America and Europe.’ Many nations emphasized the historical connections with other countries, whereas others remained cautiously bend to literal interpretations of their tradition, but all of them celebrated at the same time national identities in grandiose ways and a global culture with the fading away of national frontiers. Also, the exposition masterplan relied on an imagery that reinforced place identity: a huge program of urban development was meant to create legible images that evoked similar feelings on dissimilar audiences. The year 1992 marked the significant emergence of the European Union. The EU pavilion at Expo ‘92 provided an image of itself as a one whole country, a super-nation rather that supra-nation with clear figures, cities, economic objectives in a low-profile but pervasive rationale based on the recognition of its own identity. Designed by Karsten Krebs, the only visible parts of the pavilion were its iconic 50-meter steel tower decorated with the member states flags and twelve 31-meter towers representing the twelve countries. While historically expositions helped leveling class differences contributing in creating an identity with own self-image for a rising middle class, this story tells how the sense of world fairs is able to evolve and adapt quickly. From grand narrative of national progress, they can now legitimate supra-national values through history storytelling, tradition re-invention and symbolic re-construction of a new centrality in a global world. At length, the emergence of the EU in 1992 was the peacekeeper of the exposition, which can be considered a starting point to understand the renewed interest of the 21st century towards the phenomenon.