On the choice of what to take

The history museum of the Kyrgyz Republic in Bishek has a display of official state gifts presented to the President of Kyrgyzstan. These include a coat, a hat and a vase from the Tajiks, the Uzbeks and the Kazakhs. The Kazakh display also features a model of the spaceship "Buran" - a reference to Baikonur, the famous space station in Kazakhstan.

At the World Exhibitions in the 19th century, the German Empire was traditionally represented by a block of steel manufactured by the company Krupp, and the block became bigger with each successive exhibition. Later it became fashionable for countries to be represented by a building, whose striking design displayed their national idiosyncrasies. For the Expo 2000 in Hanover, the Germans exhibited a Viking ship, the Gutenberg Bible and the first Benz automobile. Buthan featured cloisters, Nicaragua its people's talent for improvisation and their joie de vivre, while Gabon, Ghana and Guyana focused on the beauty of their countries' natural landscape.

In New York in 1939, the Westinghouse Group buried a time capsule. This was to be opened in the year 6939 and was to represent mankind in the year the capsule was buried.

It contains examples of consumer goods, material patterns and metals, cement, plastic, asbestos, seeds, books, money, microfilms and a microscope. On board the spaceship Pioneer 10 is a golden plate, a message to alien forms of life engraved with drawings of men and women in proportion to the size of the spaceship, together with a drawing of a hydrogen molecule, and a map displaying the position of the earth in the solar system and the position of the sun in the universe. The project was expanded for Voyager 1 and the information for potential alien finders also includes music and a friendly greeting in many different languages.

As well as the issue of what should be chosen to represent a group of people, a nation or mankind itself, there is also the question of who is given the responsibility for making this choice. The German pavilion at the Venice Biennial for example, is designed by the Foreign Office. Special Exhibition Commissioners are appointed to handle the displays for the World Exhibitions, and they are usually subordinate to the Economic Ministries. However, at the world exhibition in Hanover, the Kings of Buthan and Jordan were themselves the Exhibition Commissioners of their countries.