Experiential Learning and Screen Media: a Study of the Shanghai Expo
As branding exercises, but also as platforms where new technological and scientific inventions are introduced and cross-cultural exchange is promoted, world fairs share into the ethos of both the museum and the theme park. Screen media have become increasingly instrumental for the pursuit of all these objectives. Adorno famously said of Benjamin’s Arcades project that it was located at the crossroads of magic and positivism, a spot he termed ‘bewitched’. The very same can be said of world fairs, and it is screen media that are relied upon to do the enchanting.
The world expo that was recently held in Shanghai (1 May to 31 October 2010) with a theme of sustainable urban development was hugely successful in that it attracted 73 million visitors to some 250 pavilions of various regions, countries, cities and transnational corporations. Nearly all pavilions drew from screen media to various extents, from smaller screens with looped clips providing factual information on the country or an object on display, to fully-fledged, massive Imax theatres with innovative designs seeking to provide an immersive experience.
This paper explores the different ways in which some of the most emblematic national pavilions, namely those of Belgium, Saudi Arabia and China, employed screen media for cultural heritage conservation, exhibition and dissemination purposes. The paper seeks to compare the ways that screen technology was integrated into their various interpretation threads to enable experiential learning, while also pondering upon the repercussions of the focus on audiovisual spectacle on how cultural heritage is defined and shaped.