Popular culture events, such as world’s fairs, are important objects of study as they demonstrate how visual culture functions as an agent of nation branding on a global scale. Much of the research on these events has focused on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as sites of imperialism and modernism. Although less attention has been paid to contemporary world’s fairs, this study argues that these continue to be critical areas of study. Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan was the first world’s fair held in Asia in the twenty-first century. As global power dynamics shift to Asia, an
examination of cultural events allows us to explore how countries hope to position themselves in this shift.
My case study of the Canadian pavilion at Expo 2005 demonstrates how the display simultaneously projected a federal brand and reflected tourist expectations of Canada for the Japanese audience. I use a visual analysis drawing from iconology and visual semiotics to understand how the design of the pavilion represented the unique expectations of three different stakeholders: the organizers of the Aichi expo who sought to position Japan within a wider global framework, the Canadian
federal planners who wanted to project a distinct Canadian identity abroad, and the attending public, who went to be entertained.
I draw from critical studies in museology and nation branding to develop a framework, which I term the branded display complex to explain this complex form of representation. At Aichi, the brand of Canada continued to emphasize meta-narratives such as ‘Logs and Rocks,’ ‘Great White North,’ and ‘Unity in Diversity.’ Furthermore, I show that nations are branding themselves in a way that is coded for the audience. Tourism strategies such as collecting and digital
interfaces that promote participation result in an experience that personalizes the nation, which in turn contributes to its capacity of being internalized. The branded display complex suggests that in the competitive global exchange such as a world’s fair, pavilions must rely on systems of differentiation, which alter how we come to engage with, and know, the nation on display.