The city of Kiruna is situated just north of the Arctic Circle. It has around 23,000 inhabitants, and of those, nearly 1/6th work for the mining company LKAB (Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag—named after the two mountains nearby). LKAB is owned by the Swedish state. Kiruna exists mainly because of these mining operations, which started around 1900.
An iron ore body lies under the city of Kiruna. It consists largely of a giant, tilted disk of magnetite, supposedly the single largest iron ore body in the world. It is roughly four kilometres long from north to south and 80 metres wide, on average. It descends sharply into the ground towards the east by 60 degrees and continues to a depth of at least 1,500 metres.
When LKAB extracts this iron ore, the ground around it is affected. Each portion of ore taken out of the mine is followed by waste rock falling from above, causing the ground to sink gradually and creating deformations at ground level. Because of the tilt in the iron ore body, these deformations came closer and closer to the city.
In 2004, the municipality of Kiruna started a project titled “City in Transformation.” This consisted of plans to move the city center three kilometres away to a new, hopefully more stable site. The move was to be mostly paid for by LKAB: around 3,000 flats, 200 houses, 380 hotel rooms and 200,000 square metres of public space and buildings. Most of this will have to be abandoned or redesigned somewhere else. A few of the existing houses, around 20 of them, were moved to the new city centre in the summer of 2017. Construction activities started in 2016 with the new city hall.
This is my visual approach to the often paradoxical relationship between the mine and the city. The city only exists because of the mine, but at the same time, people are being forced to start a new existence somewhere else due to the mine’s operations.
In Kiruna, at the moment, there is a prevailing mix of nostalgia and doubt. People have to take with them the memories that were tied to places and trust in the vision of a place that does not yet exist.