Critics’ Picks

View of “Kirunatopia / In the Shadow of the Future,” 2012.


“Kirunatopia / In the Shadow of the Future”

Östra Strandgatan 30B Umeå Arts Campus
June 20 - October 28

Freight trains reached the site of present-day Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city, for the first time in 1899, carrying with them those who proceeded to found the city, drawn there in part by a quest for the region’s abundant iron ore. Some one hundred years later, following an exploitative modernization of the Swedish north that has included heedless mining and a disregard for the indigenous nomadic Sami people, Kiruna is today dealing with mining-induced subsidence: Simply put, big holes are causing cracks in the earth where people live. And, as a countermeasure, it has been decreed that the city center must move.

The exhibition “Kirunatopia / In the Shadow of the Future” grew out of an ambitious research venture initiated two years ago dealing with the history, future, and ongoing relocation of Kiruna. The project included a residency program where artists were invited to live and work in the city for various intervals of time; their resulting work touches on the precarious situation Kiruna faces, speaking to the city’s dramatic history and its ongoing radical relocation.

The exhibition’s first installment is being presented in Umeå (another, less northern town) and includes a wooden construction by Florian Zeyfang, a form that is prefigured in images by early-twentieth-century Kiruna settlement documentarian Emil Ragner Borg Mesch. It’s placed in the middle of the space, partitioning the exhibition, a gesture that denotes the colonization of the north as the original construction that facilitated Kiruna’s initial infrastructure. Also on view is a work by Ingela Johansson that comprises an engrossing collection of artworks donated by Swedish artists in 1969–70 as an act of solidarity with Kiruna minors, who were then on a momentous strike. Nearby is a Britta Marakatt-Labba installation that makes use of the door to the Sami people’s goahti, a transportable shelter specially designed to be easily relocated, leaving the least possible traces of itself. Considering the impending move facing Kiruna today, this piece hints at the debate over the city’s future—whether the quarries will be allowed to expand, possibly forcing the city to relocate again in another hundred years, or if Kiruna will consider the design of the goathi and cause the environment no harm.