Perspectieven Op Moderniteit, Tijd en Ruimte. Een Inleiding
The Universal Exhibition that took place in Ghent in 1913, on the eve of the Great War, is easily interpreted as the swansong of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie. Yet, the period between 1900 and 1914 can also be perceived as the breakpoint of modernity, when the conditions for a more egalitarian society were created. Several things were in flux in 1913. Under societal pressure, one social experiment after the other was unleashed upon the population. Women, workers, and in Flanders also Dutch-speaking intellectuals laid claim to their share of public space and democracy. Furthermore, the Ghent factories functioned with full speed, and the city's skyline was dominated no longer by bell towers but by smoking factory towers. The Universal Exhibition succeeded in bridging the apparent contradictions of the moment: modernity and tradition, modernity and anti-modernity, men and , civilized and primitive, labour and capital, reason and nostalgia. Through spectacular settings, universal exhibitions presented the separation between the real contradictions of capitalist production and the dream world of consumer culture as if they were unified, whereas in social realty they were actually divided. The Ghent spectacle may have removed itself from social reality, but at the same time it was an illusory refuge where the frictions of alienation that accompanied modernity were neutralized. One of the separations that the Universal Exhibition sought to reconcile was that between Western and colonial cultures. The Congo pavilion with its huge panorama, the Street of Caﲯ, and the exhibition of the daily life of complete Senegalese and Philippine villages underscored the binary opposition between 'us' and 'the Other' in a spectacular display. The forces of industrialization were also addressed. In a didactic, immersive environment called the Modern Village, modernization of the agricultural sector was humanized. But also, attractions such as the Scenic Railway or the Waterchute, made the distance between humans and machines merge in a synergetic pleasure of movement and acceleration. However, the most prominent contradiction that the World's Fair sought to resolve was that between modernity and history. A beautiful poster designed by L鯮 Spillaert was not used by the organizing committee, as it showed the new Bell Tower of Ghent in juxtaposition with smoking chimneys of factories. The official advertising posters instead presented Ghent as a 'city of monuments and flowers'. In 'Old Flanders', a neo-medieval collage of picturesque buildings which existed or had existed, as well as the 'Palaces of Cities', history was reanimated by means of simulation. The same nostalgia had been the source for the renewal of the inner city of Ghent by means of historicizing reconstructions.
Gent 1913: Op Het Breukvlak Van De Moderniteit
Architectural History and Theory