Yang Fudong and the SALT Project Norway

Yang Fudong on the beach at the SALT festival at Sandho rnoya in Norway. All images © Lisa Young 2014

HELGA-MARIE NORDBY and Erland Mogard-Larsen first conceived the idea of SALT in 2010, while curating the Lofoten International Art Festival. Nomadic SALT was inspired by the Arctic Circle, and it will move in a similarly slow pattern to the surrounding environment. This is a project of epic proportion. It brings together the art, music and architecture that will pass across the northernmost parts of Europe over the next five years. This year marks the first appearance by the Chinese filmmaker Yang Fudong.

The SALT Journey

World-renowned artists are invited to create respectful and care-driven works connected to the spectacular, yet endangered, landscape of the Arctic. The SALT journey started on the remote Norwegian beach of Langsand, on the 103 square kilometre mountainous island of Sandhornoya, which is located just south of the town of Bodo. SALT is there for one year (until 6 September 2015), before it relocates to spend time in Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Ireland, Scotland, Spitsbergen, Alaska, and Russia respectively.

On the beach at Langsand stand three pyramid-shaped structures developed by Finnish architect Sami Rintala. The structures, which function as a framework for SALT’s cultural programmes, were inspired by traditional regional fish racks, or fiskehjelle, used by fishermen to dry their catch.

Yan Fudong – The Light That I Feel

Earlier in 2014, Yang Fudong was invited to create a site-specific outdoor film as part of an installation for the opening of SALT, which was to be installed in the largest of these fish racks. The structure measures 130-metres long, is a magnificently crafted wooden pine structure and serves as SALT’s mobile platform for art and music, and it is this structure that also houses Yang Fudong’s film, entitled The Light That I Feel.

SALT is an ambitious and inspirational concept that was designed to stir the imagination using the nature and history of the Arctic Circle as a framework for strong artistic and cultural experiences.

Yang Fudong’s slow-moving black and white film (edited into eight short films, and shown within small pinewood hut structures) depicts local Norwegian dancers and actors on the remote beach of Sandhornoya and at other locations around the island. The installation will remain on the beach for the next six months before another commission will replace it.

Asian Art Newspaper: Who first contacted you about SALT?
Yang Fudong: Helga-Marie Nordby first contacted me. Helga wanted to get me involved because my vision is so different, but also because my work is a combination of looking at the past and the present. There is something similar in the way I think about my films and the way the co-founders of SALT think about their project.

AAN: What are your thoughts on the philosophy behind SALT?
Yang Fudong: Their philosophy is very imaginative, because the Arctic region is a remote, faraway, and strange place, especially for me. The idea of a place I have never been to intrigued me and captured my imagination. I am very happy that we have finally, and successfully, realised this project.

AAN: How did you feel the very first time you visited the island?
Yang Fudong: When I first arrived, I felt incredibly peaceful. I saw this huge mountain in front of my house and it made me feel very much at peace.

AAN: How long did you work on location?
Yang Fudong: We worked here on this remote beach for a month and rarely saw anyone. Even up until 2pm on the opening day, there was just myself and the SALT team finishing everything. When I came back in the evening, I saw lots of boats suddenly popping up in the sea like mushrooms, and so the many people coming to visit SALT, by car or boat, started to arrive. I am very happy that so many people showed up for the opening.

AAN: Did you have many ideaspre-planned for filming?
Yang Fudong: Before I came here, I did have some plans for shooting the film. Once I got here, all my ideas changed! I wanted to stick to whatI was feeling right there and then.

AAN: What was it like competing in such a dramatic environment?
Yang Fudong: I do not see the environment as a challenge to my work. I value life here on the island,and the working experience is like living in the image. The month spent here was important, and helped me to understand this environment.

AAN: Who created the music?
Yang Fudong:A Shanghai-based musician, Jin Wang, who has worked with me many times before on other films. Before arriving in Norway, we discussed the music for the film several times. As I had never experienced the Northern Lights in person, it was something I could only imagine. I wanted Jin Wang to share my imaginative experience of the Northern Lights.

Once I got here and actual saw them, I called Jin to tell her, ‘You cannot imagine it; when you open the window at midnight, you can see nothing at all, but that does not mean there is no light’. I wanted Jin to share these emotions that I felt as I saw the light. So we continued to discuss this and the music everyday.

AAN: Can you explain the atmosphere and representation of women in the film?
Yang Fudong: The female figures are not necessarily female figures; they are more like the feelings you feel, but they are invisible, and I portray them as female figures. The scenery plays an important role, too, as well as, of course, the leading actors.

AAN: How did you choose the actors for the film?
Yang Fudong: I have only worked with Chinese actors in a Chinese context before, this is the first time I have worked with non-Chinese actors. First impressions, or pure instinct, made me choose the men and women in the film. Profiles of candidates were collected with photos, background information, and their ideas about SALT. We had Skype meetings with each actor, which was important for me to communicate with them and to get to know them better. I made the final choice based on each interview.

AAN: Are there any Nordic influences on your work?
Yang Fudong: I researched the history and culture of Northern Europe for some background information and looked at archive photos of how people used to live. I saw old whaling photos and spectacular landscapes and scenery.
I was also a big fan of Ingmar Bergman (1917-2007). I made a point of re-watching his films and I also researched his work.

AAN: The film has a romantic feel to it – black and white, slow-moving, almost like a still portrait.
Yang Fudong: The sea, wind, mountains, trees, water, and sounds around you are the leading actors in the film. I see it as a moving portrait, and not a still image. The movement and poses of the girls were their own decisions; most of them are dancers and had their own creative ideas.

AAN: Why do the women appear naked at times, yet the men wear underwear?
Yang Fudong: I never really think about the actors as naked; for me, it is the beauty of the body, just like the beauty of the storm flowers by the seaside. The movement of the body is like the movement of flowers. In some scenes, the girls are wearing swimming suits – another form of beauty – so it is about the atmosphere of this beauty and its transformation.

There was no rational choice to have the girls running naked; it just felt like the right thing – just as it felt right to have them wearing swimming suits. There is a younger boy who always wears glasses and pants. This boy is a developing from a boy into a man, so some of the scenes are the inner feelings of this boy.

AAN: Why do you have to watch this film in stages, not as one film?
Yang Fudong: It is not so much about watching the sequences of the film in order, it is more about the rhythm of the work itself. I started with a young sea eagle on the beach, with three girls slowly dancing towards the sea, as if they were dancing in the air, like a spirit, or a flower opening.

AAN: Why is the sense of perspective, where you see both sides of the film, inside and outside the box, like a negative slide?
Yang Fudong: The film is edited into eight sections. Each section is screened inside a box, but you can also see it from outside the box. The two parts to the design, the constellations and the installation itself, which represent the Northern Star with seven stars around it.

The boxes were designed with the idea of what the winter is like in this region, always in darkness, and then you see the light of the screen, like the Northern Lights glowing at night. At the moment, as it is the summer, so the days are long and it does not work so well. At the moment, around 6pm or 7pm, the pictures are not very clear, but around 10pm, when it is darker, you can see the screen very well. During the autumn and winter you will be able to see the film earlier in the day, as the days are darker for longer.

AAN: Was it hard adapting to the Norwegian way of life for a month?
Yang Fudong: It is a spectacular and enjoyable place. I am the kind of guy who can easily stay at home for a month, so it was a big change for me. I wish I could have done more, but I have an old injury and so it is difficult to walk around, especially on the sand. It has been very hard working in sand, it slows everything down.

AAN: Do you have any funny stories about your experience in Norway?
Yang Fudong: The trampoline scene in the film turned out to be a fun-filled day. We did not always have control over the locations, for example, I had found a great location to film – there was a very special house with a caravan and a trampoline in the yard.

Yet, when we turned up to start filming it was no longer there … . We searched and searched and finally found a public trampoline in a shared space for children. We turned up, and around eight adult actors were jumping up and down on it for the scene. However, we were worried that it would break, so we ended up with only one person jumping on it at a time. Then the actors ended up getting naked on the trampoline, which attracted the neighbours who came out to watch. It was the event of the year for the locals. It was actually very funny.

AAN: What do you hope people feel and take away with them after seeing the film installation?
Yang Fudong: I want people to experience the light around them – what they see, feel, and experience. They can sit inside, or outside, the box watching the scenes in the film, or watching the sea and think of nothing.

AAN: Finally, do you like the Norwegian dried fish?
Yang Fudong: I have tried various types of salted dried cod. I liked it. I have eaten so much fish, and many sandwiches and potatoes since being here. However, I noticed that you are always served just two potatoes, no matter who you are. I found it very funny.

The local shopkeeper, who catered for us, decided that my crew should experience really traditional Norwegian food – the sort of food that Norwegians do not really eat much of today. On one day, we had traditional hot rice porridge with cinnamon and sugar, not really beach-style food, but I loved it.


SALT runs until 6 September 2015.

Getting to SALT
SALT is at Sandhornoya, an island in the municipality of Fildeskal in the Arctic Circle. The festival runs until 6 September 2015. Special Njalla heated cabins sleep up to four and cost £125 a night for one person, plus £20 for each extra person. Event tickets start from £15. A day package with transfers from the town of Bodo, guided tour, dinner and sauna costs £126 pp. For more information on the festival, the island, and travel, visit www.salted.no.