SALT: A Nomadic Initiative for Art, Culture and Environment in the Arctic


SALT is a unique cultural platform – creative, historical, environmental and communal – that brings together art, architecture, music and food in the Arctic landscape. SALT starts out in Norway before, over the coming years, travelling across the northernmost part of our planet, making a home in Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Ireland, Scotland, Spitsbergen, Alaska and Russia. SALT is an ambitious and inspiring concept designed to stir the imagination using the nature and history of the Arctic as the framework for strong arts and cultural experiences.


Arctic, Norway, Sandhornøya, Bodø, fish racks, culture, arts, nomadic, architecture, design

Main Text

SALT is about the history, presence and the future of the Arctic. Through art, architecture and culture SALT engages and raises consciousness about a beautiful, harsh and fragile region, which today is increasingly challenged by the impact of climate change and resource exploitation. Inspired by the coastal culture and the nomads who lived in this area for thousands of years, leaving almost no traces due to their close relation to nature and minimal life style, SALT’s intention is to also leave small footprints in nature but big ones in people’s minds.
SALT Festival, photo credit Gunnar Holmstad
For thousands of years people have followed the movement of animals and the seasonal rhythms in the Arctic landscape. Footprints are few. SALT is inspired by and moves in that same Arctic landscape with care and respect. SALT is a unique cultural platform – creative, historical, environmental and communal – that brings together art, architecture, music and food in the Arctic landscape. SALT opened in August 2014, starting out in the north of Norway before, over the coming years, travelling across the northernmost part of our planet, making a home in Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Ireland, Scotland, Spitsbergen, Alaska and Russia. It is an unusually long-term cultural project and the next stages of its evolution are in development. SALT is an ambitious and inspiring concept designed to stir the imagination using the nature and history of the Arctic as the framework for strong arts and cultural experiences. SALT began its journey upon an Arctic beach on the mountainous island of Sandhornøya, south of Bodø in Northern Norway, and will remain in this place for over a year, until at least September 2015. Here, visitors can discover a place to engage the mind, body and soul, whether it’s for a day trip, an overnight stay or a lengthier sojourn under midnight sun or northern lights. It is also a remarkable jumping off point to explore the wider region and all it has to offer, from its wildlife and landscapes, island communities, its food, culture and traditions. SALT itself presents a continuous arts diary the year around, offering a series of cultural experiences, indoors and outdoors. From site specific art installations to fireside storytelling, readings, lectures, conferences and debates, from music, including classical and contemporary concerts, club nights, gigs, to theatre and experimental performances, to child-friendly events and education programmes. SALT’s unique setting – a white sand Arctic beach, encompassed by high mountains and the turquoise ocean – is a beautiful, breath-taking and challenging stage for the ambitious cultural project. With an artistic and musical programme closely linked to the astonishing location and surroundings, visitors gain an increased awareness of the landscape, its history, present circumstances and future. The programming will change with and reflect the seasons, wildness and natural phenomena of this area.

The Arctic

For thousands of years people have followed the movement of animals and the seasonal rhythms in the Arctic landscape. Footprints are few. SALT is inspired by and moves in that same Arctic landscape with care and respect. The world is watching the Arctic, where climate changes are currently manifesting themselves twice as fast as in the rest of the world. This is where an estimated 22 percent of the world’s currently unexploited oil reserves are to be found but is, at the same time, one of the world’s most fragile areas. What will happen when the Arctic becomes even more ice-free and nations and global corporations start seriously demanding the extraction of oil and minerals? Mankind has inhabited the Arctic landscape for ten thousand years. Arctic nomads wandered with the ice, taking advantage of available resources from coastal areas and mountainous countryside but leaving behind few traces. Their concern for – and close relationship to – nature means archaeologists are able to see few remnants of their culture. This is the essence of the Arctic indigenous people’s philosophy and the guideline for SALT`s eight year long journey, which will be a cultural platform focusing on our common future, lifestyle and on environment and climate changes.

Fish racks

Northern Norway has been the uninterrupted abode of more people than anywhere else in the Arctic region. This has been possible due to the abundance of fish at the outskirts of the Gulf Stream as well as the inventiveness and stubbornness of its inhabitants to populate and overcome the challenging environment. To endure long winters, all kinds of food preservation methods had to be invented. Two of the most successful were the salting and drying of fish on rocks (clipfish) and the drying of fish (stockfish) on special constructions called fiskehjell (fish rack). For thousands of years, such fish racks have been seen along the northern coast, on exposed headlands and small islands, where winds are strong and fish dries fast. Today, in many places, these are in the process of being torn down and forgotten. The fish rack has a triangular form that reflects the coastal mountains. It has solid, strong poles that allow gusts of wind to slip through; it is a steep, slender and tall structure with an inherent Arctic flexibility; its lightness effectively enables it to be erected and taken down in a day in case people need to move along the coast. Since the poles float, they can also be dragged behind a boat when people look for new land, new seas and a new life. SALT has an equally flexible and fundamental function, albeit using art as the primary means of support. It takes the traditional fish rack model as its first incarnation and inspiration for SALT in Norway, which features a site with three large-scale pyramid structures that resemble the fiskehjell. The SALT site, created with Rintala Eggertsson Architects, features three main structures, each offering a different function. The largest, called the Fish Rack Gallery, is 100 metres long and currently hosts an 8-channel, multi-screen art installation by Chines artist Yang Fudong called The Light That I Feel. It can also be subdivided in the future into functional entities or as several smaller structures, each consisting of a function of its own. The second structure houses a concert- and live performance space and a bar, with the third pyramid, enclosed and with a floor-to-ceiling glass window on the front, housing a 120 person sauna, which also doubles as an events and performance space. In addition to the main buildings, there is a restaurant and private dining/event space. The municipality has also commissioned a permanent service building, which can serve the festival when there are cultural activities taking place and the regular hikers in the area after the festival, as well as those guests staying in the njalla accommodation on site.
SALT Festival, photo credit Gunnar Holmstad


The largest architectural structure The Fish Rack Gallery is developed by the Rintala-Eggertson Architects, known for architectural projects that offer layered interpretations of the physical, mental and poetic resources of an individual site. Rintala-Eggertson practise combines architecture with a critical thinking towards society and nature, with an emphasis on the use of light and materials, which embody and extend the specificity of a location. The Fish Rack Gallery structure functions as a physical and conceptual framework for site-specific art projects, geared to initiate a dialogue that connects with the landscape and nature – past and present – surrounding it. SALT's core art programme SALT Art, consists of two major new art works, created by internationally acclaimed artists for every destination. Reflecting our contemporary existence in poetic and tactile ways, there is one project for the dark season, and one for the light season – SALT Night and SALT Day. The very first SALT artist to be commissioned is Yang Fudong, one of China’s best-known contemporary artists and filmmakers. He has produced for SALT Night an outdoor, site-specific 8-channel film installation for the beautiful and ever-changing landscape called The Light That I Feel. His films are mostly black and white, plotless and fragmented, but at the same time hypnotic and epic in expression. “I think about how to tell a narrative by using not people speaking so much, but how the wind tells a narrative, or how trees tell a narrative”, he says. Silence is an important part of his work, inspired by an Eastern tradition where meaning cannot be spoken but is understood by the heart. Working with local actors and dancers, “The Light That I Feel” was shot on location and is presented via eight screens which are visible inside and outside and represent star constellations. Seven appear inside the Fish Rack Gallery as “The Seven Stars” and one is installed on high poles just outside the fish rack – “The Northern Star”. Yang Fudong is a sensitive and listening artist with a strong interest for questions around identity connected to history and heritage and the existential challenges of contemporary life. His poetic, slow and grand cinematic language counters the natural scenery at Sandhornøya in suprising and extraordinary ways. SALT represents a physical memory bank enabling different ways of seeing and managing the Arctic region’s culture, nature and resources through art. SALT makes things visible in ways that incite commentary and discussion, illuminating the reality of the Arctic by creating a situation where past, present and future collide.
SALT WORKSHOP March 2014. Njalla. Photo Matti Aikio

 SALT Architecture

“...If you want to create something new, you have to look for that which is ancient.” Juhani Pallasmaa SALT also includes a specialised programme for architecture called SALT Siida, developed through an international student workshop series run by Roger Mullin (Assistant Professor of Architecture, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada), the Norwegian Sami artist and architect Joar Nango and Sami Rintala. Nango graduated with an MA in Architecture from NTNU in Trondheim (2008), where he has also been involved in researching the subject of Sami architecture. He is inspired by the creative simplicity and DIY mentality that exists within northern rural environments and works collaboratively on projects that intersect art, design and architecture. Near the SALT fish racks, 29 guest architects, artists and students conceived and build lodgings for SALT’s guests, through a research and workshop programme inspired by Arctic nomadic construction methods, designed for a simple and functional life in both rough and friendly climates. The lodgings include a group of small tent-like structures, called njalla, which are mobile and can be dragged across the beach so best placed to be protected from the elements. Each njalla, sleeping 2 – 4 people, also has a wood burning stove for warmth and a glass roof, so that guests are able to see the stars, northern lights and midnight sun from their beds, which are made from a mattress of sticks and leaves covered by reindeer pelts. SALT Siida takes its name from the Northern Sami language. Siida means family, home or community. SALT’s first siida is inspired by the Sami-nomadic building tradition. SALT Siida does not seek to create new visual representations of Sami culture or architecture. The aim is instead to search for new architectural potential within the wealth of Sami building traditions. The use of local materials and an understanding of the landscape, are examples of the themes explored. The initial workshop took place in Summer 2014 and will continue to be part of SALT’s education programme at future SALT sites.


Nomadism refers to a lifestyle in which people have no permanent domicile, but move from place to place. Anthropologically speaking, the concept is associated with traditional communities who travel along fixed routes between seasonal pastures and landscapes. The concept is also used in a more modern sense to describe a mobile and international lifestyle largely linked with Western individualism and freedom. In both the traditional and the contemporary sense, the nature of mobility means that people must adopt an attitude of sparse minimalism regarding material possessions. With the help of new architecture, SALT Siida explores the possibilities inherent in minimalist and essentialist forms of housing. By exploring locally-rooted, cultural-historical knowledge, and at the same time designing housing that can accommodate ever-accelerating global mobility, SALT Siida aims to be an architectural laboratory for experimentation and discussion about the nomadic way of living practiced by communities in arctic, weather-beaten landscapes.

Sauna, arctic bathing and food

SALT Siida also provides a home for a bar and restaurant championing locally sourced food – its menu regularly changing with the seasons and inspired by ingredients and produce found in immediate region, from fish and meat to locally made cheese and beer – as well as the spacious sauna, functioning both as a spa and as a heated indoor stage for intimate concerts, readings and performances. SALT offers a year round cultural programme curated by the SALT Team and invited co-curators from different cultural fields, festivals and institutions nationally and internationally. The programme will be spread out through the year, but also organized in intensive and thematically focused weekend programmes. As an integral part of SALT Art and the ongoing artistic programme SALT will offer an education programme for children and young people with focus on learning through storytelling and performance. SALT want to create dialogue around our shared heritage; the sea, nomadic culture and issues related to Arctic history and development whilst considering the changes and challenges faced in this environment. Storytelling forms a common basis and a collective understanding and referencepoint of our existence. Throughout history and in all societies, storytelling has been a vital element for unity, community and a source of both knowledge and entertainment. This project focuses on human beings as narrative beings; on how storytelling has been the transfer of knowledge. As SALT is an Arctic collaboration, it builds a strong Arctic cultural network in places that historically were connected through the trade in fish, hides and grain. The SALT Journey will create unique new networks and opportunitites for collaboration, sharing of knowledge and cultural experiences.

SALT History

SALT was first conceived in 2010 by acclaimed Norwegian curator Helga-Marie Nordby and cultural entrepreneur Erlend Mogård-Larsen (best known for projects and festivals such as Vulkana, ByLarm andTrœna Festival) at the Lofoten International Art Festival (LIAF), a festival for contemporary art that has taken place every second year since 1999 in the remote Lofoten Islands, just above the Arctic Circle. 
As curators for LIAF 2010, Nordby and Mogård-Larsen chose Kuba, a small island outside Svolvœr, as the location for the festival. Set in the Norwegian Sea, Kuba provides the best location for drying fish in Norway. The fiskehjeller (fish racks) on the island were transformed into venues for art projects, performances, concerts and club nights. The success of LIAF 2010 provided the inspiration for SALT as more sustained and long-term project. For two years Nordby and Mogård-Larsen travelled extensively in the North Norway to search for the first destination of SALT. When they reached the island of Sandhornøy and its dramatic beach in 2013 they new they had a profound sense that they had reached the perfect destination: A 2 kilometers long white beach surrounded by steep, black rock mountains and turquoise water. The island has 400 inhabitants mostly involved in agriculture and fishing industry and in order to be able to develop SALT, they had to seek the permission of the local population, as well as working closely with the Mayor of the island. Sandhornøya also has a rich wildlife and is popular for walking and hiking. While there, visitors are likely to see an abundance of elks, venison, deer and birds such as sea eagles (the area is home to the most highly populated area of these birds in the world), as well as puffins and ravens. The opening weekend of SALT in August 2014 was a huge success; over 8000 people, including many local to the region and Norway, as well as those travelling from much further afield, visited during the three first days. The weather conditions were exceptional; summer temperatures and beautiful blue skies during the day and spectacular northern lights appearing at night. SALT’s opening weekend programme was organized in collaboration with Oslo-based nyMusikk (new music) and presented an exciting combination of international, national and local performing artists. The programme was curated to be closely linked to the astonishing location, including the acclaimed American artist and musician Lonnie Holley, who travelled from Birmingham, Alabama to present one of his unique, improvised concerts, which used the landscape, surroundings and Yang Fudong’s film as starting points. The program also featured performances by musicians from the Arctic Symphonic Orchestra, the world’s most northerly orchestral institution; plus DJ Are Mokkelbost and Ensemble Yalajali, a 20-piece all-female choir. Ensemble Ylajali opened SALT with an interpretation of the song Å eg veit meg eit land (“Oh I know of a land”), written by the Norwegian hymn writer, politician and theologian Elias Blix (1836-1902). Blix was the son of a fisherman from Sandhornøy. Other artists who took part were Biosphere, who is known for his ambient techno and ambient style, his use of music loops and striking sound-sampling from sci-fi sources. The evocative band Wardruna used historical instruments such as primitive deer-hide frame drums and horns, together with non-traditional instruments and sound sources such as trees, rocks, water and torches. All of these elements were carefully woven into a rich aural landscape complemented by their whispering voices, melodic song and mighty choirs. Slagr is a trio who brought together the fiddle, cello and vibraphone, to create a fusion that blended meditative chamber music with acoustic, ambient sounds. The opening weekend provided the opportunity for visitors to explore the SALT site by day and night for the first time, including its stunning architectural design inspired by fiskehjeller (fish racks), its unique, large-scale sauna, amphitheatre-style events space for live music, parties, talks and screenings, as well as its restaurant and bar, and small njalla lodges, which visitors spent their night in on the beach.

SALT Goals

- Through art and place unite history, present and future in an imaginative and inspiring way - Be a unique platform for a public, high quality art programme - Increase the awareness and knowledge of the Arctic - Few footprints: moving in the Arctic landscape with care and respect - Make visible nomadic values and life style - Existing as a physical memory bank, enabling different ways of seeing and managing the Arctic region’s culture, nature and resources - Be a reminder of values greater than the extraction and exploitation of natural resources - Connecting people and culture in the Arctic region - Create international, national, regional and local interest and engagement for the Arctic - A strong focus on local and regional development