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A whistle stop tour through Expo.02

Expo.02 is supposed to offer a futuristic glimpse of Switzerland

(Keystone)

After the spectacular opening of Expo.02, swissinfo offers a glimpse of what awaits the first visitors.

Billed as a showcase for Switzerland and a celebration of its multicultural society, the national exhibition straddles the divide between German- and French-speaking Switzerland in the western "Three Lakes Region".

It features four arteplages, or lakeside platforms, in Biel, Neuchâtel, Murten and Yverdon-les-Bains. Each structure is temporary and will be dismantled after the exhibition has finished. A fifth, mobile arteplage in the form of a ship will take visitors around each of the three lakes.

Living sound

The Biel arteplage focuses on the theme "Power and Freedom". A building painted with a thin layer of gold symbolises the relationship between money and power - slot machines share space with a money shredder, which turns precious notes into worthless confetti.

If that puts you in a bad mood, you can work out your frustrations in the "Happy End" exhibition, where porcelain plates are thoughtfully provided for visitors to smash against the wall.

Sound is a major element of the Biel arteplage, whose focal point is a 40-metre-high "Klangturm", or sound tower.

A capsule with a built-in sound station is suspended in the tower, and reverberates with the sound from the waters of Lake Biel and the murmur of visitors as they make they way through the tower.

Musicians will be visiting the tower during the Expo's five months, and giving their interpretations of the Klangturm, leaving visitors to work out for themselves who is generating the sound coming from the tower.

Flying saucers

Further south, on the Lake of Neuchâtel, three flying saucers hover above the water. Closer inspection reveals that they form the roofs of that town's arteplage, "Nature and Artifice".

One of the highlights is the "Biopolis", which offers a glimpse of what medicine will be like in the year 2022, when tiny robots will travel through our bodies, cleansing our veins and arteries, and stem cells will enable us to grow new organs.

Nearby is "Ada", an "intelligent" space, which can hear, see and feel, and uses these senses to detect and communicate with visitors. In the robotics pavilion, the guides are robots and lead visitors through the exhibition.

The raw power of nature is also unleashed in Neuchâtel in the form of a hurricane. Adventurous visitors enter a simulator and are assaulted by immense winds. A brief respite comes when they reach the eye of the storm and then the gales begin again.

Mysterious Monolith

From Neuchâtel, visitors can take a boat to the neighbouring lake of Murten (Morat in French), where a 4,000-ton monolith is anchored off the shore of the town.

The hulking cube, covered in rust, is a symbol of the past, and its sheer size and imposing facades demonstrate that the past cannot easily be forgotten.

Once inside - it can reached only by solar powered ferry - visitors are confronted with a slide show purporting to reveal modern Switzerland. The more bizarre images include flying chalets and close-ups of naked bodies.

Moving to the next floor of the monolith, visitors get a glimpse of the lake outside through thousands of tiny holes drilled in the outer walls. The view expands as one moves away from the walls and contracts as one moves closer.

The top floor returns to the past where a 19th century painting of the Battle of Murten - restored - shows the Swiss victory against the Duke of Burgundy.

Misty waters

Water is a key feature of the fourth arteplage, in Yverdon-les-Bains on the southern tip of lake Neuchâtel. Suspended over the lakeside at the end of a long, metal walkway is a vast artificial cloud, created by spraying water through more than 30,000 jets evenly spread over a 78-ton structure.

Visitors to the site can choose to admire the spectacle from a distance or, at the risk of getting soaked, go for a walk in the cloud itself - raincoats are provided!

The organisers hope people will choose to experience the cloud directly because the theme of the Yverdon arteplage is "Me and the Universe", and explores the interaction between humans and the world around them.

Beyond the cloud, visitors can find out more about themselves in the "Who am I" exhibition, where they visitors lie cocooned in padded shells while watching a giant kaleidoscopic projection show. Speakers in the side of the individual shells pose a series of questions, ranging from the frivolous to the deadly serious.

Other exhibits reveal our relationship to our bodies in the "Garden of Eden", which informs and educates about healthy (and unhealthy) living, and how pain affects our lives in "Signalpain".

The more romantically inclined should head for "Le Premier Regard", which explores the mystery of human attraction and seduction, while "Oui" offers couples the chance to marry - for 24 hours.

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