I first heard about the UK Pavilion in early 2009 when my friend Sonny Leong took me and actress Alice Lee along to a meeting with the British Council to lobby for the inclusion of British Chinese artists at the UK site for Shanghai Expo 2010. Coals to Newcastle it may have been, but what better way to show China's contribution to the world than illustrate where we are in the Chinese diaspora? Hey, China, this is one of the ways in which we've developed since leaving the Mothership, bringing it full circle. Don't we scrub up a treat?
My Big Idea was to take my comedy show, Anna May Wong Must Die!, to the Shanghai Expo, introducing the mitochondrial Eve of the Chinese diaspora, Hollywood's first movie legend, to Chinese audiences. And other artists who were using different artistic disciplines to tackle the same major figure in Western culture — whose birth centenary had just passed in 2005 — would show us in our infinite variety.
Over a delightful lunch of dim sum (thanks, Sonny) we presented our case. The two officers from the BC smiled and looked blank. They then got out a portfolio of sketches and photo mock-ups and embarked on a presentation of the UK Pavilion, which looked something like a giant hedgehog. Oohing and aahing, we awaited the expected conclusion: dates, capacity of the venue, that sort of thing. And we waited. And we waited.
The officers concluded their presentation and sat back. "So how many does it hold?" I asked.
They looked at each other and one of them told me, "We expect a through-put time of about two minutes."
Huh? A non sequitur if ever I heard one.
"Yes, but what's the audience capacity?"
Over a tortuous ten minutes or so it transpired that (and how typical does this sound) the UK Pavilion had no practical function. It was merely a thing of beauty to be admired. A bit like the upcoming Labour leadership contest if the Blair/Brown axis has it their own way.
As it turns out, the UK Pavilion — known as the Seed Cathedral — is indeed beautiful. It is a structure pierced by a myriad acrylic rods, each with an illuminated seed where the rods end in the pavilion, so it has some sort of ecological message, like nature is destined to museum status or something like that. And being flexible, the rods move in the breeze, giving the impression of glowing fur.
The British Council is taking British artists to the Expo. Sadly, none of them Chinese. My mate Neil Hornick and his crew (lucky things!) will be committing street-theatre on the crowds queuing up to be two-minute through-put. I am told Queen Victoria may make an appearance.
More on Shanghai Expo 2010 at Ronin