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Expo.02: Murten's monolith

The rusting cube houses modern and historical panoramas.

(expo02.ch)

The small town of Murten has big ideas. It is one of the four hosting the Swiss national exhibition.

The theme of Expo.02 in Murten is "Instant and Eternity", and the star French architect, Jean Nouvel, is responsible for the layout of the Expo sites in the medieval town.

He has successfully integrated the various buildings and structures in and around Murten, as opposed to creating a separate exhibition grounds as in the other three Expo towns, Biel, Neuchâtel and Yverdon-les-Bains.

Turned on its head, one could say Nouvel has integrated Murten into Expo, since its well-preserved medieval buildings and ramparts deserve to be in the spotlight as much as any of the exhibitions.

Do-it-yourself homeland

The exhibition called "Heimatfabrik" - a playful factory where one can choose the right ingredients for a do-it-yourself homeland - is propped against an exposed wall of the old town.

Just outside the town walls, a lush terraced garden lures passers-by inside. But small installations try to show that not all are welcome. This "Garden of Violence" is sponsored by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Questions of national security are posed in an abstract shipyard on the lakeshore, and visitors wandering along the lake in the other direction can peek inside any one of a series of small houses of reflection placed there by Swiss church organisations.

Monolith

But Murten's pièce de resistance is the Monolith; a three-storey-high rusting steel cube anchored a few hundred metres off shore. The cube houses a monumental panorama painting of the 15th century Battle of Murten (see links) that has been taken out of mothballs for the exhibition.

The rust symbolises the passing of time in a town, which appears trapped in its past, and the sheer size of the structure means this past cannot be overlooked.

A solar-powered ferry shuttles visitors to the Monolith. Once inside, they find themselves confronted first with a whimsical slide show of modern-day Switzerland - complete with flying chalets and extreme close-ups of naked bodies.

On the second floor, Nouvel has created a living panorama of Murten and its lake. The landscape is viewed through thousands of small round holes drilled in each of the outer walls, but the mesh effect blurs this real image the closer one gets to the wall.

The visit to the Monolith ends on the top floor where the 19th century panorama painting of the medieval Battle of Murten has been given a new lease on life.

It took artist, Louis Braun, and his team ten months to complete the grandiose circular work in 1893, at a time when panorama paintings had the function of today's cinema.

By walking around the viewing platform which is surrounded by the painting, one can observe in whole, in this case, the decisive battle or focus on the details of individual scenes.

The works inside the Monolith are expected to be among the top attractions of Expo.02, and it will be one of the challenges of the organisers to ensure that ticket holders are given sufficient time to appreciate them.

by Dale Bechtel

Visiting Expo.02

Expo.02 is taking place in western Switzerland's "Three Lakes Region". The national exhibition runs until October 20. Adult tickets cost between SFr48 ($30) for a single day and SFr240 for a season pass. A comprehensive English guide to Expo.02 can be purchased, and most of the individual exhibitions have English captions, where necessary. Many of the Expo.02 staff speak English. Improved rail and boat links between the Expo towns should ensure few traffic problems and the region also boasts an excellent network of bicycle and in line skate routes. Bikes and skates can be hired at the Expo sites and railway stations, and one-way hires for no extra charge are also possible.

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