Opener: Images from the site of a large fair, the “Exposition universelle et internationale Montréal 1967.” A birds-eye view onto the national pavilions, built to demonstrate the participating country’s newest developments. The buildings offer different aesthetics of architecture both experimental and representational, of a future as imagined in the 1960 / ’70s. Several people are seen walking around the pavilions. In the center of the image, they line up to enter a white, edgily formed pavilion. An iceberg, a cliff, a folding-paper-game… Several stairs lead up to the building. Large extensions stretch in all directions. Narrow windows pierce the 45 degree angled roofs. Below, three bull’s-eye windows extend from the wall, bending outwards. The steel frame that carries the walls is based on large concrete sockets that form a cone, its wider proportion as base. The word CUBA, prominently painted onto the surface of one of the roof-parts.
One of the round windows, in the middle of a rectangular white wall. In this image, the convex pane offers a view into the pavilion. We see visitors inside an exhibition architecture, gesturing at each other. The exhibition display paraphrases the external view of folding rectangles, presenting images on square panels lined up like a spatial leporello. The windows also mirror the outside, depending on the light situation on both sides. And: they are colored. In the archives, we find only few images in color, and there, the bull’s-eyes are seen in yellow, pink, violet, and a Prussian blue, also called Berliner Blau.
An interview with Vittorio Garatti, one of the pavilion’s architects: “…it seemed to us a little bit like a satellite, or better, the Lunar Module with its extended feet… it reaches the ground and TACK! places those feet on the surface of this world…”
Through the extended legs, the building is elevated. It sits on more than 50 pillars, and really recalls a vehicle like the “bug,” as the lunar landing module was called. That lunar module reached the moon’s surface not before 1969, and the Expo happened already in 1967. But then, in the mid-sixties, the designs of the Apollo program had obviously been closely observed, together with all the developments around the race to the moon. Like the “bug,” the pavilion sits on its legs, and it seems as if the structure would only wait to lift off again. A stranger landed from elsewhere. An Alien in the Western Expo fantasy.
Inside the pavilion. The display shows images from the history of the country, from the history of slavery, until the recent revolution. There are US-American troops on horses. We see workers in the factory, and class struggle. Batista. The Cuban people, with flags. The Moncada Barracks. Fidel and Che. Some of the images are inverted, triangle cut outs reach into the round window frames.
There are hardly any “things” in the pavilion, just images, and text, alternating with the images. “Man’s long journey through centuries of exploitation and murder comes to an end” we read, but also “54 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64,” and then a plate, “phosphors poisengas FAIM HUNGER bacteriological weapons L.S.D. VX C.I.A. napalm BOMBS C.N.S. B.2.” Next to Che and Fidel, “FREEDOM FREEDOM.” And “THIS IS VOICI CUBA.”
From the interview. “…Cuba had nothing to present in this pavilion. Nothing like a production, in those days. The revolution had just happened. We decided to present instead the revolution itself… so, the satellite would land and start to “bombard” the exhibition sites with images from the revolution. It seemed a perfect invention for good publicity, a propaganda machine… we thought of it as a projection machine. We would project to the inside, and to the outside…”
We read in the booklet, produced for the Expo: “The Cuban pavilion is the only one to provide screens which can be seen from the outside as well as from the inside of the building. Strategically placed screens show films of various activities to visitors to the pavilion. There are six screens in all, four of which are used for the films and the remaining two for slides.
The lack of things, of products available and presentable, supported the decision to exhibit films. They were easy to transport, compared to goods. Why show the tractor itself—anyway it would be an outdated model—if you can show the people working in the field? Maybe surrounded by international helpers, of which there were still many in the late 1960s.
Cuba’s film production during the 1960s was rich in images, rich in stories. The filmmakers of that time, realizing a prominent idea of the revolution, invented new forms of documentary, experimental formats, and melted it with fiction film. Films like Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Muerte de un burócrata (Death of a Bureaucrat) from 1966 tackled critically the new Cuban society. The film is listed in the Expo booklet. We would like to recognize on the screen images from Santiago Álvarez’ Now! of 1965. One could imagine that Sara Gomez’ early films would have been screened.
Another view onto the pavilion from the surrounding sidewalks. On the right side of the pavilion, the extensions with the built-in screens reach out towards a channel, filled with water and about 10 meters wide. The extensions expand over the channel, so that the stream of images should also reach the visitors that pass by beyond the water, coming from pavilions that represent other countries. There is the propaganda momentum, but as we hear from Vittorio Garatti, that this was not the only reason to activate the pavilion’s surface:
“…The projections outside would mean that the images were also seen by people that were afraid to enter. Afraid, because there was the threat of counterrevolution, and people could be scared that someone might plant a bomb inside the pavilion…”
But the pavilion, not least the bar, which takes up quite some space inside, seemed to receive quite some attention during the exhibition time.
An axonometric drawing of the pavilion. Alex made it, on the way to understand the pavilion’s structure, and as a basis for an animation. The walls are missing—what is left are the translucent surfaces. We can clearly see the six screens. The round windows are isolated in this drawing, and so are the rectangle ones. Due to the missing walls, the construction frame, realized in steel, is visible. It again triggers ideas of a folding-up structure, of an architecture-out-of-a-suitcase.
And indeed the pavilion was meant to be dismounted after the Expo 67. With all additional parts, it was to be shipped back to Cuba and reused for other occasions. But the folding-up never happened. Instead, according to Vittorio Garatti, the building was given to the city of Montréal as a gift. It disappeared in the years after; some say it had to make way for the new Grand Prix racetrack.
Some time ago, we found a webpage of an obscure hotel in Canada. The owners claimed to have taken parts of the Cuban pavilion to build it. But that webpage cannot be found anymore.