Design & Living / Sustainable Culture

SALT Festival: A Northern Odyssey

Sustainable Culture meets Helga-Marie Nordby, founder of SALT, a new type of festival that promises a once-in-a-lifetime experience north of the Arctic Circle

Sandhornøya, Norway
Sandhornøya, Norway Photography by Trygve Førde

Nestled high amid the twisting, endless shorelines of northern Norway, the island of Sandhornøya looks much like the others that dot this remote coast – rugged, mountainous and impossibly beautiful. Looking down from its peaks over the past few weeks, however, you’d see tiny figures moving around on the beach below and strange structures taking shape. Working with acclaimed architects Sami Rintala, Joar Nango and Roger Mullin (CAN), a group of 40 architectural students and artists have begun constructing the infrastructure for SALT – a new type of festival that promises a once-in-a-lifetime experience north of the Arctic Circle.

“We spent two years travelling around in the North of Norway looking for the perfect place,” explains SALT founder Helga-Marie Nordby. “When we reached Sandhornøya we immediately knew we were home: a two kilometre long white beach surrounded by steep mountains and turquoise water. When you step unto the beach something profound happens to you.”

Combining locally-inspired architecture with international art and music in a stunning location, SALT looks set to deliver on its promise – with almost every aspect of the event taking things to another level. Instead of typical festival food, acclaimed chefs will create meals using seasonal local produce from the sea and the mountains that surround the site: berries and herbs from the woods, ethically sourced meat from local landowners and huntsmen and fresh crab and fish from the ocean.

"Our hope is to start a movement of awareness and engagement" – Helga-Marie Nordby

“SALT’s philosophy is grounded in the idea of leaving as few footprints in nature as possible,” explains Nordby, “while at the same time making use of our resources the a most efficient and sustainable way. The island has 400 inhabitants mostly involved in agriculture and fishing industry. It has a rich wildlife and on your walks you are likely to meet not just one, but several elks, venison, deer and birds like sea eagles, puffins and ravens.

As night falls, guests are invited to bed down in a ‘Njalla’ – architecturally-designed mobile structures that can be dragged along the beach until you find a good spot to set up camp. Each features a wood burner and glass ceiling so you can watch the sky, stars and Northern Lights from the comfort of bed.

For entertainment, guests can take in work from international artists (starting with a film installation by Chinese artist Yang Fudong) and enjoy concerts and talks in the ‘Amfi’ – an insulated space that will serve as both an amphitheatre for 120 people and, simultaneously, the world’s largest sauna. As film screenings, debates, concerts and seminars unfold, two large wood burning stoves will provide either room temperature comfort or intense sauna heat, with a bar standing by to refresh audiences throughout.

For Nordby, creating such a unique event is just the beginning of a wider exploration of the northern reaches of our planet and its cultures – with future events planned for Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Ireland, Scotland, Spitsbergen, Alaska and Russia. “Our hope is to start a movement,” says Nordby, “a movement of awareness and engagement. For people to experience the breath-taking nature, history and culture, but at the same time become aware of our world’s biggest challenge. Climate change is currently manifesting itself twice as fast in the Arctic as the rest of the world.”

SALT runs from 29 August 2014 – 1 September 2015, with events and workshops running throughout the winter months.

Text by Chris Hatherill

Chris Hatherill is founder of super/collider, an independent agency which explores science and sustainability from a creative standpoint.