|From Global Kiruna, a project by Iwan Baan, Anne Dessing and Michiel van Iersel, 2020.|
|Kiruna as seen from Luossavaara mountain. The photograph was taken by Gregor Kallina on March 15, 2019.|
All of man’s mistakes arise because he imagines that he walks upon a lifeless thing, whereas his footsteps imprint themselves in a flesh full of vital power.
– Jean Gino
Bang, bang, that awful sound. The thirteen people who were down there that night were knocked off their feet by the sudden impact of a terrifying wallop that occurred at 03:11 on May 18 this spring. Some miners were resting at 814 metres below the ground, while most of the unit was some hundreds of metres deeper when the largest mining-induced quake in Sweden’s history ruptured on a level between them. The early-morning seismic blow was something very different from the sixty tonnes of explosives which cause this place to flutter and ruffle an hour after midnight every single day of the year. It was a 4.9-magnitude jolt, a sneeze from Mother Earth.
Above this dramatic underworld sits an Arctic town with 16,660 residents. The state-owned mining company LKAB employs 2,175 people on this location, with a large workforce deep down in the intestinal dominions of the mine – the largest and purest body of magnetite on the planet is swaddled by an industrial complex that extracts and dispatches six Eiffel Towers’ worth of iron ore every twenty-four hours, imagine the scale of it. “Wherever you are in Kiruna the mine is always present,” writes Dominic Hinde in A Utopia Like Any Other: Inside the Swedish Model. “Kiruna is in a Faustian pact with the industrialised world outside, selling its mine wealth and its culture in return for being allowed to exist.”
There is an existential rift between the moods expressed in television chef Keith Floyd’s miserably inebriated performance in the Kiruna mine in 1997 in which he, drunk as a skunk, confounded the wine with the brandy and poured the whole bottle of the latter into the pot – and the bedrock kind of sorrow in Sofia Norlin’s dismal feature film Broken Hill Blues from 2013, in which a Kirunian kid is asking a young woman who is brushing his hair: “What’s my room going to look like afterwards, when no one lives here anymore?” “Well,” she tells him, “you might get some trees growing in there. It might even snow in there.” And here’s the thing about Kiruna as we know it: the here about Sweden’s youngest town, founded in 1900, is in the process of becoming a there, a place that will topple inwardly and, in a matter of decades, perish altogether.
“The citizens of Kiruna have been forced to face extraordinary, philosophical questions […] This urban landscape destabilises notions of time in an accelerated society. One can see a jump-cut version of a city,” argues curator Carlos Mínguez Carrasco in his essay to the necessary Kiruna Forever exhibition, on show at Arkdes – the National Centre for Architecture and Design – in Stockholm until February next year. The fine-looking catalogue, with the great cover photo by Gregor Kallina, has a panoramic view of the surviving mining district and the edging localities that will be the first to disappear, and reappear in some other form for the 21st-century version of Kiruna and its dynamic past. Mínguez Carrasco: “No other Swedish city embodies the 20th century in the same way as Kiruna. Its enlightened belief in progress, its hope for the future, its struggles for better labour conditions, its community building and social emancipation. It simultaneously epitomises the tendencies of the welfare state and capitalist statecraft.”
Jump cut to a day in Kiruna’s history when the town was in its infancy. Borg Mesch’s one-hundred-and-nineteen-year-old and sun-soaked photograph Midsummer’s Night on Kiirunavaara (vaara is the local word for mountain) in the Kiruna Forever show is a remarkable testament to the hopes and dreams of the new settlers who have gathered here by the hundreds, some together with their wives or sons, all of them dressed and groomed for the occasion, with the mandatory long walking sticks, as they crown the top which will be the first to go in this Faustian pact. (Another thing about Kiruna and its peculiar sense of time is the five weeks around midsummer when the sun never sets and the three weeks of unending night in the winter.)
There is something very hard-wired and primeval about scooping out tunnels in the crust of the earth. The shafts throughout Kiirunavaara’s underbelly run two kilometres deep, which is likely the rock-bottom level of the four-kilometre-long and eighty-metre-wide slab of iron ore that was formed 1.6 billion years ago, and this is the curse and treasure that will keep Kiruna “forever”. It is the myriad of caverns and the massive hanging wall towards Kiruna society that are propelling the subsidence, and it just keeps getting worse since two-thirds of this gargantuan chunk remains for the next one hundred years of mining and the further extraction of 219,000 new Eiffel Towers.
As Dominic Hinde points out in his book, “Sweden colonised itself. Axel Oxenstierna, a Swedish nobleman and royal adviser in the 17th century declared ‘In Norrland [the country’s nine northernmost provinces] we have our own India.’ A few hundred years later it was declared that Norrland was Sweden’s own American west.” When Hjalmar Lundbohm arrived in this outback to establish a mining community between Kiirunavaara (Ptarmigan Mountain) and the smaller Luossavaara (Salmon Trout Mountain) for LKAB in the late 1800s, there were no routes to the area other than the rivers in summertime. The place was connected with the Iron Ore Line in 1899, the railway between Luleå on the Swedish side of the Gulf of Bothnia (which is frozen nearly five months a year) and Narvik on Norway’s Atlantic coast – Kiruna’s port for pretty much the lock, stock and barrel of what is brought up from its underbelly.
Lundbohm was a man who had seen the world. Most of all it was Port Sunlight, this new Merseyside town with its ideal concoction of business, industry, learning, culture and, of course, great architecture that made the strongest impression on him. In the academic journal Scandinavian Studies (vol 83, no 4, 2011), Kristin Kuutna describes Lundbohm himself as “a curious combination of hardboiled industrialist and sensitive intellectual interested in art and culture. He had amassed an impressive collection of art, and frequently hosted artist friends from the southern metropolis of Stockholm at his house in Kiruna. He also entertained musicians and hosted regular concert performances in the wilderness mining settlement. His controversial character, accompanied by the driving force of economic advantage and patriarchal superiority, nevertheless included affectionate sentiments towards the Sami.”
“But while his mining pursuits destroyed the Sami habitat on the one hand, Lundbohm energetically articulated the need to record and preserve Sami culture on the other,” explains Kuutna. “Lundbohm expressed the necessity for Sami to retain their rights, while the biggest menace seemed for him to be the new circumstances which, ironically, he himself had fundamentally created. Lundbohm’s mining practices were riddled with contradictory features: he was strongly opposed to hiring Sami to work in the mines, which he saw to be destructive of their lifestyle and ancient culture.”
Hjalmar Lundbohm’s direction to his friend Gustaf Wickman, the architect who designed early Kiruna’s most significant buildings, was that the wooden church – one of the most loved buildings in Sweden today – would be made with references to a Sami hut and a Norwegian stave church, and that it would also serve as a pleasant and useful meeting place for the townspeople in matters other than the Almighty & Co. The church (1909–12) with its eight hundred seats is painted in Falu red and safeguarded by twelve golden sculptures which each embodies a human state of mind absorbed in a saintly posture. The church together with the belfry and the Maria Chapel (holding the remains of several thousand Kirunians) will be dismantled and moved in 2026, exactly one hundred years after the “uncrowned King of Lapland” was put to rest here under the tallest headstone.
In order to develop the town plan, Wickman worked with his colleague Per Olof Hallman, whose clever layout to face the Arctic cold was accepted in April 1900. In his book Demokratins genombrott: Människor som formade 1900-talet (Breakthrough in Democracy: The People Who Shaped the 20th Century), Curt Persson describes how “they designed an irregular street network where both hills and cavities were taken into account. Instead of excavating elevations in the terrain, they suggested to wrench the street network through or on the side of the craggy terrain. To counteract and create a protective barrier against the prevailing northwest mountain winds that constantly circulate in the area, they constructed irregular street systems with small square-like places where several streets met to divide the advancement of the winds. The plan itself can be seen as a gigantic work of art – in harmony with the conditions.”
Obviously far from everything was a piece of art in this frontier outpost at the beginning of the century. Makeshift sheds were squeeged all over the town and the miners had to lurch kilometres through the snow and brave the immense cold during wintertime and, in addition, climb up the Kiirunavaara before their workday had even started. A tram and a funicular were put into service in 1907 – however, by 1909 thousands of settlers left Kiruna, among these were five hundred people who were trying their luck in Brazil where their misfortunes only went on. (A group of optimistic migrants were the “Kiruna Swedes” who moved to the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and onwards. Most of them were murdered by the regime when it dawned on them about the realities of Communism.)
Around 1920, Kiruna had become the focal point of the massive machinery that was designated as the Norrbotten [County] Technological Megasystem. When LKAB’s ore production regained strength after the nadir of World War I, a three-month strike in 1920 brought on a twenty per cent rise in earnings for the workers on the mountain. Another decline in production led to a three-day working week in 1922, until the output spiked again in 1927, only to crash anew during the Great Depression. The Megasystem kept the Wehrmacht going throughout WWII, but outlanders were banned from entering Kiruna and soldiers were protecting every train bridge across the Iron Ore Line on the Swedish side.
When Kiruna obtained its city rights in 1948, vast sums of the wealth from the mining business began to pour into the Municipality. The mine itself was modernised and the town progressed in terms of new neighbourhoods, created by the country’s leading architects in the 1950s and 60s when the future was something to look forward to. One of them was a twenty-five-year-old Englishman who arrived in Sweden on his bicycle in 1939 with a fresh set of idealistic concepts for the new welfare state, Folkhemmet.
“The architect who has possibly spent the most time and effort in planning Kiruna is Ralph Erskine. He was out of work in the late 1950s and started on his own initiative to draw up a new Kiruna. He was very interested in the climate and developed theories of Arctic ideals on how to build in a cold climate. We have a fantastic material of this work that kept him busy for years. Unfortunately, not much of this was built but you can look at his ideas here in our collections,” says Frida Melin, curator of the collection at Arkdes. “The exhibition shows how Erskine has described Kiruna as a metropolis in the Arctic landscape. There is also a very nice perspective where he summarises his Arctic ideals and demonstrates what the Arctic city could look like.”
Artur von Schmalensee’s Town Hall building from 1963 was demolished in 2019. The Kiruna Forever exhibition does not only show von Schmalensee’s original drawings for this marvellous piece of architecture, but also a thoughtfully grief-stricken installation-of-sorts made out of genuine parts from this building’s very beautiful and very gone public atrium. “We wanted to make sure that the audience would experience, physically, the features of these fantastic details the building had. The building was also very symbolic for the citizens of Kiruna. It was located in the mining area and it hosted very important public events. A Picasso exhibition happened in the building [in 1965], but also concerts, weddings and political speeches,” says Carlos Mínguez Carrasco.
“The main reason for the demolition of the Town Hall was because it was located in the most affected area due to the expansion of the mine. There were many discussions and studies about looking at the possibility of moving the entire building, but it was too expensive and technically very difficult to move. It has been one of those elements which has been super complex – lots of years of discussions, documentation and records – and the reality today is that it is gone. I think it is sad, it was a fantastic building.”
As the curator points out, “The reality of a city is impossible to portray in an exhibition, there are so many aspects, it’s infinite. Once you start to see this, you see how impossible it is.” Mínguez Carrasco and his team at Arkdes have started from a pocket full of miracles and created an exhibition of many elements that in essence balances like a Calder mobile. Whether you are on a speed dating with Kiruna Forever or are mesmerised for hours (time flies in here), you will get a great sense of Kiruna’s lineage and new directions – with one critical exception.
“The mine is the heart in Kiruna,” convinces a voice in Liselotte Wajstedt’s video piece Kiruna the Drift Miner (2020) in which the residents in Erskine’s soon-to-be-razed neighbourhood have their say as so-called ordinary Kirunians. (Three ladies are asked about the future and they reply, “It is behind us.”) Wajstedt is a Kirunian herself and her parents and siblings are working in the mine, however this is as close to that heart as the whole exhibition aims to take us. There is a side room in Kiruna Forever with two pieces of “meta art” which could have served so much better as a space that would have given us just the tiniest sense of going so deep down in the mine that the ears pop – the claustrophobia, the disorientation, the moisture, the quivers and the odd smells, even the tactile physicality of the iron ore pellets would have done a lot for the understanding of the forces that this show, after all, is dealing with.
Arguably the most illuminating new piece in the show is Ingela Johansson’s solemn Silver Tongue, the Great Miners’ Strike 1969–70 (2020), a fifty-seven-minute video work displayed over three screens, about the wildcat strike that broke out on December 9 and stalled the Norrbotten Technical Megasystem for fifty-seven days. The origins of the strike were several, but a great incentive was the author Sara Lidman’s interview book Gruva (Mine) that was published the year before the strike with pictures by Odd Uhrbom (you will find a few of these in the show).
“I have no hesitation in saying that Sara Lidman’s Gruva is not at all representative of the circumstances up at LKAB,” vented the Minister for Finance, Gunnar Sträng (who held this post for twenty-one consecutive years in the Social Democratic Party), during a speech in November 1969. “When I say that I know this, it is because I have had the opportunity to personally speak with people, municipal people and direct employees, in those places and they have been quite indignant about this presentation of their workplace which has, quite unexpectedly, fallen upon them.”
What one day began as thirty-five miners’ spontaneous sit-in strike in an underground tunnel quickly rose to this massive work stoppage, involving four thousand five hundred men (and of course, the miners were all men until 1979). “My film is an in-and-out-zooming of press images that I have digitalised. The three tracks serve to create a flow, and obviously I have worked rhythmically which I hope will provide a cinematic feeling,” explains Ingela Johansson.
“It is also nice that Silver Tongue is in dialogue with the installation, the reconstruction of the Town Hall. The design of the work grew in conversation with Carlos Mínguez Carrasco who likes performativity. This video work is a montage from all the speeches held at the major meetings, mainly in Kiruna. The Town Hall is the centre space, but the speeches were also held in the sports hall in Kiruna and in [the smaller mine town] Malmberget. The microphone on the Town Hall podium is the original model of the one that was used during the strike.”
Silver Tongue is a very apt title. The eloquence, the fairness, the humanity of these mineworkers’ speeches is a joy to listen to – “You are wonderful people and you will remain people. We have to persist – we have to fight for our right to be people. It is difficult to comprehend that you have to do that in 1969” – and what a different world from the demagoguery of today when we are expected to kneel before the entire female/minority victim game of fashionably baleful idiocies. Orwell was the first to recognise that the next wave of Fascists will call themselves anti-Fascists. In Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Winston tells Julia that “every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” Here are we now.
Norm Form was the title of the last of a decade’s worth of predominantly cheapjack exhibitions at Arkdes before Kieran Long took over as the adult in the room in 2017. Norm Form was presented by three disposable heroes of hypocrisy (all rendered with academic titles), and this was the vilest attempt in a public museum to promote the endorsement of fallacious, totalitarian and sociologically disastrous ideologies based on a chauvinistic, nonsensical sorting of people in which everything fits a template narrative. This is the crybully hogwash and rabidity that the Swedish taxpayers are forced to patronise when the voices of reason are squelched and we have stupidity at that level. One of the last things that H L Mencken wrote before he died in 1956 was that “The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.”
Director Kieran Long puts forth some relevant questions in the Kiruna Forever catalogue: “What does it mean for our sense of our place in the world if the cities we live in are movable, friable, if they simply disappear from the Earth because of a judgement about the greater good? What is the ethical basis of a city established on land populated by indigenous people for centuries? What happens when the monuments that define our history are saved, moved or demolished according to the arguments of historians, architects, judges and politicians? How do we remember our town histories, when the places we remember no longer exist?”
Are there answers to these reflections in the exhibition? Yes, somewhat and quite considering that we live in an age obsessed with questions for the sake of questions. The problem with Kiruna Forever is to a certain degree the catalogue. It has the looks all right and everything that you can wish for from the physical exhibition – however, apart from lacking the flavour of considerate editing, reading the essays is like watching two current Swedish television commercials where a woman and a man are trying to eat crispbread, but are interrupted too many times by a voiceover that is more like a strafing attack of jolly PC slogans for the targeted viewer: the well-formatted Swede, the world champion. Such are the schemes that pester our institutions and government bodies as well, and the question is if we want them repeated in these catalogues? There is a straight-up answer to that: no.
A big table in the exhibition over Kiruna’s topography etcetera, Kiruna Forever: A Visual Exploration in Five Acts (2020), is a reasonable starting point to appreciate this show. Four plates at one of the short sides reveal the city’s (and the table’s) development phases from the early 1960s to the absolute now of today. There are various projections on the table and there is a screen at the other end. A great deal of information is involved in this installation – which is like the spaceship environment in Alien (1979) with the jagged old analogue versus the high-tech – and as much as the table is indeed confusing it is also illuminating and very helpful for the understanding of the course of Kiruna. (Two markings on the floor are related to the big table: the airport strip at the side of the table, and a faraway dot that marks the Esrange Space Centre, the only civilian rocket station in Europe.)
The show has a generous draught of old maps, architectural drawings and early models. I Am Mountain – Measurements (2016) looks like a real-time seismograph that would measure Kiruna’s underground movements, but is instead another share of “Me”-ism, care of an artist who has mixed a 1902 sound recording of Sweden’s highest peak Kebnekaise with the twang of her own body. Things to love in the show, however, are Lars Harald Westman’s Miroslav Šašek-y illustrations to Ralph Erskine’s Arctic City concept, the paintings by Carl Wilhelmson, Helmer Osslund and Axel Törneman where early Parisian modernism meets the mining realities of Lapland, and Rolf Dahlström’s graphic photographs (1967) of Örjan Lüning’s buildings and twenty-six-metre-high iron wind organ for LKAB’s industrial complex in Svappavaara northeast of Kiruna.
Hakon Ahlberg’s office building for LKAB, that sits on solid ground in front of Kiirunavaara, is a beautiful piece of architecture with the looks of the opening sequence in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (though it was finished a year after the film’s premiere in 1959), and we are presented to a sweet sequence of Polaroids of this building. Photographer Gregor Kallina’s pensive and very poetic Iron Heart series from 2019 is a delight, and the same goes for Iwan Baan’s Global Kiruna (2020). One of these images by this undisputed master of architectural photography is an overview of three railway tracks stuffed with iron ore freight cars. These trains are seven hundred and fifty metres long and are pulled by the toughest locomotives in the world.
“I often wonder what Sweden would have been like today without this mine,” asks the last writer (a Swedish woman with a professional career in academia) in the catalogue, in an essay that would never have been published in this context in a less unwell society. “What would it have looked like today if the land’s rightful owners had been in charge? If the land had not been stolen, not been colonised?”
The great (black) American thinker Thomas Sowell highlights how little it is today that measures up to even an agreeable academic standard, and that our collective human story is being misrepresented all the time for ideological purposes. In “Twisted History” (can be found in The Thomas Sowell Reader), he deals with the actualities about slavery: “Everyone hated the idea of being a slave but few had any qualms about enslaving others […] although slavery was a worldwide institution for thousands of years, nowhere in the world was slavery a controversial issue prior to the 18th century. People of every race and colour were enslaved – and enslaved others. White people were still being bought and sold as slaves in the Ottoman Empire, decades after American blacks were freed.”
There are a number of Sami works in the Kiruna Forever exhibition and they look like the kind of indigenous art that one has come to expect. The Sami victim narrative looms large in this last essay – a text that addresses such different and victorious topics as “colonial and scientific racism”, “racial studies”, “massive carbon dioxide emissions”, “dramatic changes to the climate”, Stockholm’s “rising sea levels” (never mind factual life at all, never mind that the land rise after the last Ice Age is much more significant), the (asserted) malevolence of Kiruna’s founder towards the Sami and the (asserted) awfulness of Western culture.
“In 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued a papal bull that authorised representatives of Christianity to kill or enslave enemies of Christ,” she writes in an attempt to show that the Sami “also fell victim to this greed masked as Christianity”. “This was followed by further edicts that justified the killings or enslavement of non-Christians in Africa, Asia, and in what would become America (named after the Christian ‘explorer’ Amerigo Vespucci), as well as the seizing of their lands – all in the name of Christianity. In 1492, the Moors – of Muslim faith – were expelled from Spain, and with them we lost the scientific knowledge and medicine that they had translated and developed from ancient Greek philosophers and scientists.”
For those interested in something else than this self-serving gaga – after eight hundred years of the most fiendish fundamentalist oppression, this was the best thing that could ever happen to the Iberian Peninsula. “Historians often gloss over Islam’s destruction of Visigoth Spain. The Islamic invasion is frequently described as bringing enlightenment to a cultural wasteland,” delineates Darío Fernández-Morera in The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise. “Never mind that modern archaeology has confirmed that the ‘Dark Ages’ were less dark than is usually proclaimed and quite enlightened when compared with Muslim culture prior to the Arabs’ conquest of the Middle East and North Africa.”
“Moreover,” he continues, “unlike Muslims, the Visigoths had not been motivated by their religious faith to conquer the land and force its inhabitants to convert, or submit and pay a particular tax (jizya) designed to humiliate them and remind them of their submission, or die. In fact, the Visigoths did not make their faith (Arianism, a form of Christianity that orthodox Christians considered a heresy) the dominant religion of the land; they eventually converted to the existing and prevalent form of Christianity, Catholicism.”
In the good old-fashioned monster movie Tremors (1990), in which a sudden threat from the underground takes over the lives of a group of Middle American people, Val McKee (Kevin Bacon) looks over a map of an area that almost appears as desolate as Swedish Lapland and exclaims: “This valley is just one long smorgasbord!” For the Kirunians, who have folksy names for everything around, the locality three kilometres northeast of town that variably functioned as a dumping ground, a junkyard and an industry area was commonly known as “Death Valley”. It is here where the new Town Hall has been put as the cornerstone and emblematic first building for what, in the next few decades, will emerge as Kiruna 2.
Kiruna 2 is just one long smörgåsbord for the architects and urban planners that will substantiate the transformation. On September 19, 2011, the Kiruna Municipality partnered up with the Swedish Association of Architects and the following year in June they had ten contestant parties in a competition that was briefed with the following goals in mind:
(a) “To show a vision for the Kiruna of tomorrow. The watchwords of that vision must be sustainability, attractiveness and identity. The vision must affirm growth and new, robust patterns of living,” (b) “To describe a strategy and a basic sustainable structure for accomplishing the urban transformation eastwards in a dynamic, quality-creating process, in which the new and the pre-existing will form a holistic entity and will function throughout the transformation process,” and (c) “To suggest ways of shaping a sustainable, distinctive and pleasant city centre in the east, within a holistic structure encompassing the entire city.”
The word pleasant is the only surprise in here. The way to go with architecture in Sweden is to positively respond to the word sustainable in any entry declaration, cue it with this lingo called architect jargon – and you are free to erect the most stale and unimaginative buildings you like.
The new Town Hall is called the Crystal due to the angular barracks on top this circular building which, in fairness, would better suit a less important section of an airport. The Kirunians’ brand new “living room” is already suffering from leaking roofs, which means that the Norrbotten County Art Museum, as a twist of fate, has been forced to delay its in-house Kiruna Forever exhibition for an unknown period of time. The new town centre will be dense, which was what the citizens wished for, and feature a hotel that has the quirk of a ski jump tower, a big enough culture centre and some smaller housing blocks. It looks like a very sustainable place indeed, a place that forgot or really never much bothered about the pleasant side of things.
The wooden houses from the Kiruna of Hjalmar Lundbohm’s days are noticeable for their special joinery and colouration and quite nice as such. (However, let’s not make a perfect past of a town that was known for its lugubrious parking lot in the middle of everything.) Thirty-one of these old buildings are being moved – as Jane Jacobs argues in The Death and Life of American Cities, “Cities need old buildings so badly it is impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them” – along with a hundred birches because hardly anything grows up here, one hundred and forty-five kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.
“Sweden has a long tradition of moving buildings. During agricultural land reforms in the 18th and 19th centuries, villages were split up and the houses, typically wooden, were relocated to allow more large-scale farms,” informs Jennie Sjöholm in Authentic Reconstruction: Authenticity, Architecture and the Built Heritage (a book with Stari Most on its cover, the dazzling Renaissance bridge in post-Yugoslavia that was shelled for days in 1993 and then rebuilt a decade later). In her part of the book, Sjöholm articulates how incertitude took over the initial aplomb after Kiruna’s new electricity and sewerage systems were ready for use in 2009:
“One argument has been that reconstructions would not be authentic; the reasons behind are not dwelled upon, but seem to relate both to notions that buildings which have been moved lose authenticity at a new setting, and that new constructions, looking like existing buildings, would be pastiches. It is also clear that the authority prefers to build anew without references to Kiruna as a historic site, other than to continue a tradition of building what is new and innovative of the time.”
Kiruna discovered itself in the 1980s. The Kiruna Municipality’s preservation plan in 1984 was succeeded by a decision by the Swedish National Heritage Board to declare the whole town a historic site in 1990. The government agency regarded Kiruna as “an early 20th-century town setting and industrial landscape where a vision of a model society was realised in an unprecedented manner in previously unexploited mountain scenery”.
After LKAB at the beginning of the 2000s had established that underground cracks were moving towards the town at a rate of fifteen metres per year, the then-councillor and chair of the Municipal Council – the aptly-named Kenneth Stålnacke (Neck of Steel) – expressed that “The most important is that the town does not split but is held together and allowed to grow.”
Six thousand Kirunians are going to have to leave their homes since four hundred and eighty thousand square metres of living space will be left in the fissure zone like a set from a Tarkovsky film. Furthermore, thirty thousand square metres of commercial space and an equal amount of office space will have to be remodelled in and about the old “Death Valley”. The winning competition entry of 2013, Kiruna 4-ever, and the entire relocation will cost LKAB 372 billion kronor or 330 million euros, a drop in the bucket compared to the value of the nugget underneath.
Lennart Olson’s 1960 photograph of Hakon Ahlberg’s iron ore hoisting and separating plant, which was built during LKAB’s transition to underground mining in Kiruna, shows a tower with what seems to be a futuristic outlook storey topped with a mast with the vigorous alchemy symbol for iron. These days are long gone and in A Utopia Like Any Other, Dominic Hinde pokes fun at LKAB’s smugly fashionable self-image in the Social Democratic utopia where sustainability (and the catchphrase alone) is the answer to everything:
“Each year the company uses over twenty gigawatt hours of electricity, equivalent to around two per cent of Sweden’s total consumption. In the LKAB promotional film played to visitors this emphasis on sustainability builds to a crescendo as helicopter shots of the Arctic landscape are mixed with a voiceover and ambiguously ethnic music. The narrator explains how the source of both Kiruna’s prosperity and the developing world’s sustainability emerges from the untainted and pure Norrbotten earth. It looks and feels like an advert for mineral water, presenting iron ore as a lifestyle product for the ethically aware.”
Lena Stenberg’s piece at Arkdes, Deformation Zone (2016), is a dollhouse in a total disarray, as if someone has been kicking in chairs and knocking down tables in an act to precede the unpreventable. Architecture is shaping and enclosing cities – on a touchscreen in the Kiruna Forever show you can browse through a wealth of press clips from 2004 to where we are now in this thoroughgoing process. This is a very good thing in a very good exhibition.
The Last Light (2018) is a series of interior pictures taken by Erik Lefvander during the old Town Hall’s last sigh. In the catalogue, Kieran Long describes how he and the staff of Arkdes “sat stunned when we first saw the photographs of Artur von Schmalensee’s Kiruna Town Hall being demolished in early 2019. A great work of architecture lost, a listed building demolished, a place of democracy erased.” Esaias Poggats’s round door handles for this squished masterpiece (lovingly known as the Igloo) is now on the new Town Hall whereas the thirty-three-metre-tall campanile, from the same time and place, has been reassembled outside. And there is a weirdly reassuring announcement on Google Maps for those who want a further piece of Kirunian foreverness. It says that the old Town Hall will open tomorrow again and every tomorrow at eight.
The famous first words – In my beginning is my end – and the famous last – In my end is my beginning – in T S Eliot’s “East Coker” from 1940 make this poem go on forever. And between these lines is a greater knowledge, a circumstance that a Swedish town with a very old lump and a whole new essence (wherever it is) should be able to vouch for:
Houses live and die: there is a time for building / And a time for living and for generation.
|The Engineer’s Villa, LKAB’s thirty-ninth building from 1900. The picture was taken on the last day of August 2017 by Jessica Nildén.|
Kiruna Forever at Arkdes in Stockholm through February 7, 2021.