Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Great Exhibition

The cover of our Shanghai programme features the logo of 2010 Shanghai World Expo, so I thought I should spend a day at the site. I am sorry to say that I found it repulsive. If ever there were evidence of the current moral, cultural and spiritual bankruptcy of the human race, this is it. The national pavilions take the cliches of their perceived identities and parade them with no sense of their history, geography or context, so that they become nothing but vapid branding for the government's attempt to attract Chinese investment. At times this is laughable - the moment when a video climaxes in the rising skyline of Shanghai to the tune of "Land of Hope and Glory" being one example, and the EU's "typical European day" ending with a restuarant, an opera and a football match is another - but at other times it is so deeply disturbing as to bring you close to tears. In the Australian pavilion, for example, there are some carvings on show in the indigenous style. They are devoid of context, presented as national branding, placed so as to encourage people to strike silly poses beside them and have their photos taken. The true worth of this art as the spiritual expression of a people is insulted. All considerations, it seems, must be dismissed beside the economic imperative.

The only pavilion with any hint of integrity (except possibly the British, which I didn't see, but Tony did and liked) is the UN one. Here at least there is no market force at work, and so there are gentle reminders of the Millennium Goals and our utter failure to meet them. There is no queue to get into this pavilion. On the other hand, the China Pavilion has a queue two hours long. On a Monday.

Given the emptiness of so much current cultural fare, I am finding the profundity of the Chinese audience's response to our work very remarkable. On Sunday, I led a workshop for about 30 people, mainly younger ones, at SDAC. The level of creativity on display was extraordinary. They very quickly grasped the idea of working without text, of improvisation, of starting from objects or images. There was a brilliant scene about basketball and group dynamics, a very funny one about people escaping from prison (interesting given the recent news), a disturbing one about people losing limbs, and at least two car-crashes. All done with a great deal of warmth and laughter. The resilience of human creativity never ceases to amaze me.

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