A remote and strange place: SALT, Sandhornøya, Norway

A remote and strange place.

On the same weekend as this years Electric Picnic, an art project opened on an island just north of the Arctic Circle. After being at every Picnic that’s been over the past ten years I figured it was time to go on a new adventure and experience something completely random. Art and an island, the obvious choice for me really. SALT, taking place on the island of Sandhornøya for the next year, is a new festival and a celebration of culture – creative, historical, environmental and communal – that brings together art, music, food and architecture. Over the coming years, SALT will travel across the northernmost part of our planet, making a home in Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Ireland, Scotland, Spitsbergen, Alaska, and Russia.

Flying into Bodø the town in the north of Norway closest to Sandhornøya is nothing short of spectacular, we had a clear view of mountain tops, glaciers and fjords before hitting the runway which is a piece of land only barely above sea level. From Bodø it’s about a 25 minute boat trip to the island, the approach to the land there is visually incredible – large ‘fish rack’ inspired installations on a beautiful white beach, surrounded by steep mountains that make for the best backdrop nature has to offer.

Yang Fudong, the artist whose site-specific video installation resides on the beach, described the island as “a remote and strange place”, which got me thinking of the appeal and value of art in remote and hard to get to places. Why and how create a venue, sauna, art installation in a super remote place within the Arctic Circle and how important was the remoteness to the organisers? “Very important, but we stepped down our ambitions in how remote this could be” says Helga-Marie Nordby the curator of SALT. Their ambitions must have been pretty massive if this creation is a step down. The structures developed by Rintala Eggertsson Architects are seriously impressive, beautifully designed and the production is no mean feat.

The local community were also vital to the events success “we could not have done this without their support.” 25 people of the 400 population of the island own the stretch of land on which SALT takes place and have given it over rent-free to support the idea. There was a great community vibe all weekend on the beach, with random set ups of locals kids selling dried fish and aul wans their homemade cakes.

Even the mayor is hands on. On the Monday after event with all the specially chartered boats now not running we needed to get the regular ferry from the village 8 miles away, Andreas Førde, SALT’s event manager, points us to a navy Volvo and says “the mayor will drive you to the boat.” The mayor, of course, had also spent the last 3 months helping with the site build.

It seems to me that smaller communities, often in extremely isolated locations, embrace collaborations and crossovers more readily and with great enthusiasm. As the curator of Drop Everything, held on the remote and stunning Island that is Inis Oirr, I have seen firsthand the benefits of working with and within smaller communities. People just get stuck in and do what needs doing. Art and the creative processes that are necessary for these types of events create a positive unity within people, as well as adding economic and cultural value to a place. Vidar Helgesen, (Norwegian Minister of European Affairs) who spoke at the opening, described SALT as “the biggest and most important cultural event in Norway this year.” For a small community on a remote island that’s not bad going. It will be very interesting to see how SALT develops over the coming years and how it transfers to new locations and cultures, including Ireland.

Erlend Mogård-Larsen is the co founder of the event along with Nordby, and in thanking the core crew at the weekend’s wrap he said that “action is contagious”. SALT is a prime example of this, it’s also a prime example of how art does have “a value and a power in wild places”, as Luke Franklin of 4 Bothies puts it.

We don’t necessarily need to go to the Arctic Circle to find it either, anyone who’s ever scored a lift to get to Other Voices in Dingle or figured out how to get to Dillisk in Cleggan this summer can tell you that. Everyone who I’ve talked to about getting to Inis Oírr for Drop Everything says the buzz starts the minute they get on the boat or tiny plane. Location becomes part of the creation. “The travel should be part of the experience”, says Nordby. And it certainly was; from Galway it took a bus, two planes and a boat to get to her party. But drinking cava while watching an near never ending sunset turn into an aurora borealis filled sky through the glass wall of massive sauna followed by dives into the turquoise, starfish scattered, phosphorescent Arctic sea was a party I wasn’t missing.

SALT is at Sandhornøy, Norway until 6th September 2015. Further details at http://www.salted.no

CNV00032photo credit: john leo gillen