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  • “Iceberg! Right Ahead!” (Re)Discovering Chile at the 1992 Universal Exposition in Seville, Spain
  • Erika Korowin

“In a few minutes,” the Ministro said, waiving aside my father’s objections, “every important businessman in this country will traipse in here. Ready to invest in Expo ’92, to buy into the new image Chile is marketing to the world. They’ve begun to understand that you don’t sell a product, you sell a whole goddamn country, you trademark and position the whole goddamn beautiful country. They’re primed, they’re panting for something new, anything that will close the doors of the past and advertise who we are. They’re looking at the future with modern eyes. . . .”

—Ariel Dorfman, The Nanny and the Iceberg1

Summer visitors to the 1992 Universal Exposition held in Seville, Spain, encountered intense sunshine and stifling temperatures upward of 95°F. The sweltering Andalucían heat challenged the stamina of tourists, who explored more than one hundred regional, international, and thematic pavilions located on a 531-acre site on Cartuja Island in the middle of the Guadalquivir River.2 One pavilion in particular offered respite for overheated guests. While trees provided shade and a so-called bioclimatic sphere shot a refreshing mist of air on one of the fair’s main avenues, the Chilean pavilion featured a cool alternative in one of the most talked-about exhibits at the fair: a one-hundred-ton (think fifteen full-grown African male elephants) iceberg sculpture maintained by a intricate refrigeration system. Six columns surrounding the ice provided a 10°F “air curtain” while internal ducts filled with water and glycol kept the core of the berg at a cool 5°F.3

This central exhibit, a twenty-eight-foot-tall installation composed of several smaller pieces of iceberg from Chile’s Antarctic territory, provoked a wide range of reactions among visitors, journalists, environmentalists, and intellectuals. A glossy analysis of the pavilion printed soon after its inauguration offered a quartet of photographs depicting visitors’ reactions to the exhibit. Some took pictures, while others stared up in amazement at the gigantic sculpture.4 Environmental advocacy groups such as the “Ice for Antarctica” organization and Chile’s National Committee for the Defense of Flora and [End Page 48] Fauna (CODEFF) protested the exhibit, arguing that the iceberg removal was tantamount to the destruction of natural resources, as was the amount of fuel used to transport the pieces to and from Spain.5 The editors at Time magazine did not mince words in their assessment of the controversy, asking readers, “What’s dumber than hauling eighty-five tons of Antarctic ice halfway around the world to be showcased at Expo ’92 in Seville?” The magazine provided readers with the answer: “Hauling it back again.”6 Indeed, pavilion organizers arranged for the return of the iceberg to Chile and Antarctica after the Exposition closed on October 12, 1992, prompting Time to liken the plans to carrying “coals to Newcastle.”7

Chilean scholars and cultural critics, in their assessment of the pavilion, focused on the symbolism of the iceberg given the country’s recent transition to democracy after seventeen years of dictatorship. Official rhetoric linked the sculpture to Chile’s natural beauty and its ability to complete in a technologically advanced global market. Given the theme of the Universal Exposition—the Age of Discoveries—and the fact that it coincided with the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus’s maiden voyage across the Atlantic, those involved with the project pondered the significance of the iceberg in relation to both the history and contemporary state of the Americas. Guillermo Tejeda, the pavilion’s artistic content director, viewed the exhibit not only as proof of his country’s ability to conduct global business, but also as representative of Latin America’s abundance of natural resources. In an interview with the Calgary Herald, Tejeda reflected on European conquest of the region, noting that ice was “the only booty Europeans didn’t carry out of America—because they couldn’t.”8

The fervent local, regional, and international debates about the symbolism of the iceberg pointed to the success of the pavilion on at least one level. Creative content director Eugenio...


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pp. 48-63
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