Onsite Update #4
The Corporate Pavilions
Sparks shot out my butt today. Let me explain.
Before you can enter the main theater in the Hyundai Pavilion, you have to sit in a waiting area beneath a NASCAR-like ceiling: radio-controlled race cars tear and speed around a winding track of transparent tube while loudspeakers pipe in a corporate-pop song, "All Together Now." But this is only the warm-up for a main event that will burn the rubber off your tires. Inside the auto giant's theater, the room is all shadow; the only illumination is spotlight-like lights. Soon, however, you notice the subtle spots offer more than a static glow. The beacons begin to follow you, like a fairy godmother of fluorescence, and with each step the ghost lights cause your steps to cast flicks of light as you move. Unfortunately, when you sit down, the same special effect continues, with sparks shooting out your posterior like it's the 4th of July. No one notices, though, because three sides of the cotton-white room come alive.
Made of more than 3,500 individual block-like components, the wall thrusts its bricks out in a coordinated effort to spell promotional messages and make statements. Digital pictures — flames, cars, dancers — are projected on the wall, which moves in patterns with the visuals like a precocious child with a sugar rush. By the time you leave, you get the underlying message: Hyundai is not just another brick in the wall.
Samsung's pavilion would be a star at any expo, even Shanghai's in 2010, where architecture died and went to heaven. Nodding to the maritime theme of Expo 2012, the automaker constructed its pavilion's facade like a colossal orb of metallic fish scales. The structure was intended to resemble an oceanic ark that we can ride into the future. After a staffer blows bellowing notes on a conch shell, attendees file into a massive two- story theater where silhouetted images of briskly walking people are projected on the areas in front of where visitors gather. A section of the floor folds shut in the nautical-themed room, lending a subtle sense of a ship prepping for a long voyage at sea. The lights douse and the arena-size floor explodes in projected light. Dancers descend from the sky over virtual vistas of extreme climate, including an F5 tornado that buffets one dancer in the air like Dorothy on her way to Oz. Lightning cracks, thunder booms like nature's artillery, and gale winds slap her face. The flooring morphs into an Arctic-size sheaf of ice of such startling realism that when it comes apart with a shotgun blast due to global warming, the frigid chunks seem to fall into a bottomless abyss below it.
A butterfly is the corporate symbol of SK Telecom, which explains why the provider of mobile service in Korea sheathed its building in a giant butterfly net that seemed big enough to cover the Superdome. The clever exterior design was trumped, however, by the design of an interior exhibit: a kinetic art installation by a Korean artist using SK technology. Steampunk phones with an hourglass shape stand in front of a bobbing mechanical bird-beast that allowed you to input your phone number, then issue a message to your future self that will be delivered to you one year later. Let's hope most people offered something more profound than "Make sure you didn't leave the oven on."
GS Caltex, a Korean oil company, erected a forest of 380 52-foot-tall bamboo-like stalks of rice. Made of Fiberglas, they sway in the wind and light up in shades of amber, turquoise, carmine, and lavender. Standing between them is like wading inside a cross between the enchanted forest of Snow White and the LA of "Blade Runner." That gave us a high that looked impossible to beat until we stepped into Lotte's pavilion, who turned a theater into a simulation of a hot-air balloon with "flames" from a faux burner heating air into the envelope that expanded and took us up, up, and away. The food and shopping mega-conglomerate's balloon used motion-simulation tech to give us a ride that soared to heights where eagles would be afraid to dare and skipped like a rock over planes of ocean water whose waves snapped up into the air like whips.
If that sounds conceptual, wait until you hear this: The pavilion for Korean steelmaker Posco resembled an Apple store with an ear-shaped aperture cut out of its side to symbolize "listening to the ocean." The open-air platform at the top of an escalator blew wind down the automated stairway, activating the spin cycle on tiny windmill-like devices attached to a wall. Inside, you could compose music by running your fingers over metal rubes like a harp of steel, lounge in chairs glowing like a box of Crayola crayons, or whisper into speaker horns, while another person listens to your sweet nothings through another horn several feet away. But the piece de resistance was the theater.
Visitors trooped into a circular room and stood on a floor of gravel, only to see themselves reflected on the wraparound movie screen several feet above their heads. But instead of lifelike photos or even cartoon-like versions of themselves, the saw silhouettes as orange as a traffic cone or yellow as an Easter Peep. The real surprise, however, isn't the trippy movie that followed but a 7-foot-tall version of its mascot, "Big Man," that bursts through a hidden door afterward. It looked like a sinister version of the Michelin Man and charged us like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in “Ghost Busters,” at first, but after visitors started clapping, it mellowed down a bit and danced as attendees snapped pics.
The 57,000-square-foot Local Governments Pavilion housed 23 area municipalities, including Expo’s host city, Yeosu, where they could promote themselves to the fair’s anticipated 10 million visitors. Arranged in a linear fashion like retail stores in a shopping mall, the 16 municipal and seven local governments included standouts such as Gwanju. Here, foodies could watch visuals of regional cuisine projection-mapped onto a table setting for eight as if the perfectly-placed courses of duck stew and kimchee appeared on the plates out of thin air. Another region, Jeonbuck, used 6-foot-high signboards shaped like water droplets and covered in hanji, a traditional handmade paper, to promote its status as a cultural capital. Some of the placards were integrated with speakers on which attendees could listen to selections from Pansori, a 14th-century Korean two-person opera consisting of a singer and a drummer.
While most exhibiters in the pavilion accentuated their regional attractions, some, like Jeollanam-do, focused more on the official Expo 2012 theme of "The Living Ocean and Coast.” Bordering the Yellow Sea, the province erected a mini-ecosystem in its space. Recreating a mudflat - a marsh-like area that helps prevent coastal erosion - it populated the biosphere with hundreds of indigenous lugworms, ghost crabs, and goggle-eye gobys that writhed and crawled over the swampy plain.
Charles Pappas, senior writer