Hi-jacking the Imagination: The Case of the Philippines Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai International Exposition
With an estimated attendance exceeding 70 million, the 2010 Shanghai International Exposition was the single largest mass event in human history. Reflecting the enormous potential of this event to have a direct, experiential impact on tens of millions of Chinese, it was also one of the few expositions successful at attracting the participation of virtually every country in the world.
With its forward-looking theme of ‘Better City, Better Life,’ the expo offered Asian nations a chance to show one another their aspirational visions for a city offering a ‘better life.’ Particularly complex in terms of the way it situated itself before a Chinese audience was the country pavilion of the Philippines, which both featured live performance, and sought to demonstrate that it was also a country of well-performing cities.
Building on its much-vaunted image as a country of performers, Marian Pastor Roces, curator of the pavilion, recalls how she ‘was able to sell the idea of performing cities, with performance having two registers,’ adding that their approach would be that of showing ‘humanising cities,’ while offering up ‘a more organic view of cities.’
The bold, human-focused concept for the pavilion and grand plans for the urban street performances inside were considerably removed from my own experience when I came to it in September 2010; instead of a vital encounter with the performative spirit of the Filipino people, what I experienced seemed oddly reminiscent of a local trade fair in a regional town in the Philippines.
This paper seeks to determine what happened between design and execution and the eventual habitation of the pavilion by performers, audience members, and performing audiences, taking into consideration the flows of culture, capital and politics, while demonstrating how intra-Asian and intra-national Filipino subjectivities appear to have hijacked the operation of the imagination as a cultural practice.