Through the world exhibitions, the visual artist Ives Maes creates an image of the world's greatest expectations for the future: sometimes fulfilled with flying colours, but often not. That is what makes Cosmorama a fascinating journey from 19th century London to contemporary Shanghai.
Ives Maes photographs the heritage of the world exhibitions. And he records the architectural remains of these short events and their building sites. These images show an ironic contrast between the utopian expectations of the future and today's urban reality.
World’s Fairs often paved the way for museum collections. A number of expo buildings now house renowned museums. Sometimes they started out as the only permanent building on the site. Although the KMSKA is not directly a relic of a world exhibition, the museum's history is strongly intertwined with the phenomenon. In 1885, during the first Belgian world exhibition in Antwerp, the KMSKA was still under construction in the middle of the exhibition area. During the 1894 Exhibition, visitors could come and look at tropical fish on the ground floor. The upper floor was already fully occupied by the fine arts.
Ives Maes argues that the World's Fairs emerged together with the invention of photography. Thanks to the veracity of the medium, organisers were able to provide evidence of their temporary pavilions. Maes' eerie images begin with the first exhibition in London in 1851 and end in Milan, at the 2015 Expo. They are ‘afterimages’, remnants of fading dreams. For many of these structures were made only to disappear. Often they remained standing, like forgotten ruins. Others were indeed built to stay. And have survived wars, earthquakes and pandemics. The Dubai Expo 2021-22 was to leave behind the enigmatic Museum of the Future. The question remains if this is another panoramic dream or a fair world?
Ives Maes is an artistic researcher to KASK School of Arts Ghent and the Hogent Arts Research Fund.
Artists: Ives Maes