Open Out Festival in Tromsø

Project Spotlight: A meeting place for non-mainstream voices.

Circumpolar Collaboration Representation Activism
A procession of people seen from behind, wearing brightly-coloured dyed clothing carrying large dyed fabrics, walking down a rainy street.

Open Out is an annual festival dedicated to strengthening non-mainstream voices in society through art exhibitions, workshops, performances and seminars. Open Out focuses on representing queer voices, intersectional feminist perspectives, ethnic minorities and refugees and anti-capitalist horizontal cooperatives.

Note: These events were organized prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. See Barents Secretariat’s statement on the invasion and cross-border cooperation here.

A procession of people seen from behind, wearing brightly-coloured dyed clothing carrying large dyed fabrics, walking down a rainy street.

The unifying theme for the Open Out Festival is queerness. The way the festival team understands queer is both in terms of sexual orientation (non-heterosexual), as well as in a more political sense: it’s about thinking outside the box, challenging dominant narratives and reinventing the future with more focus on taking into account divergent voices within society. The festival explores the perspectives of feminists, queers, anti-capitalists, Indigenous peoples, immigrants and refugees, as well as other social minorities who do not always get to be included in the mainstream public debate in an environment that is diverse, inclusive, respectful and creative. The festival sees Tromsø as the meeting point for an international dialogue, where artists from Scandinavia, Russia, Europe and the world at large forge a dialogue through artistic practice.

The Festival team for the 2021 edition was composed of Marion Bouvier (FR/NO), Camilla Renate Nicolaisen (NO), Kristina Primakova (RU/IT), Amalie Holthen (NO) and Anna Näumann (NO).

The festival is supported by BarentsKult.

Two people on a stage with their computers and music mixing equipment on a table. The lights are dim and behind them is a projection of a Sámi woman in tones of blue, purple, yellow, and black.

Another year in the midst of a pandemic 

In 2021, similarly to the year 2020, the festival was faced with travel restrictions due to COVID-19, and with organizing a festival in very uncertain times. This made the planning of the program quite difficult, as the organizers were unsure until the last few weeks what the local restrictions in terms of audience number and traveling would be. In particular, it was not been possible to physically host any artists from Russia, while normally the presence of Russian artists is a focus ofOpen Out. The festival still has a list of Russian artists pending, who have not been able to travel to Norway since 2020 travel restrictions. The list includes Nadezhda Iskinyaeva with her Queer Camp installation, Maria Fomenko and Petr Laden with a walking performance Murmurations.

Despite these challenges, the team decided that it would strive to make the festival happen, in a safe way, even if it meant scaling it down, as they experienced how important for both audience and artists it is to organize art events in these demanding times. In 2020, the festival’s audience expressed a lot of gratitude and enthusiasm for being able to attend an art festival locally, and artists also gave feedback about how crucial it was for them to still be able to exhibit and perform, and to be paid for their work in uncertain times. To ensure that they could organize the festival in a safe way for everyone, the organizers therefore decided to focus on Sámi artists and working with international artists who reside in Norway, as well as artists from Norway and local collectives from Tromsø. This decision was also motivated by the thought that they needed to value and highlight local resources and artists. Thus, the travel restrictions did not impact the overall success of the festival, and, additionally, the festival has seen a rise in the public interest for art events and happenings. Especially queer-profiled events which are often challenging, as  safe spaces are missing in general for queer people in theNorth. The Open Out festival received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from the audience in 2021.

A group of people wearing brightly coloured dyed fabric robes walk down a rainy street in orderly lines. They all wear masks. A person at the front of the procession beats a drum.

Open Out 2021: Border/Lines

For Open Out festival 2021 the organizers were able to invite 13 artists and four collectives from Norway, a Sámi artist from Sweden, and artists from Germany and Australia residing in Norway, to be present in Tromsø for art performances, public conversations, screenings, food and art events, and workshops from September 4–11. The festival also hosted a Sámi DJ collective and three DJs from Norway. During the course of the week the festival held 19 events and a main exhibition that were open every day. All of the events were entirely free of charge. The 2021 theme for the festival, Border/Lines, reflected upon the uncertainty and difficult times for people around the world. Amongst one of the many consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lockdowns and restrictions in traveling were important topics to reflect on. This concern points to the question of borders: in a world where globalization seemed to be inexorable, many nations have closed their borders and emphasized the need to be self-sufficient. What does that mean for the global society, for us as humans, and for art? This topic of borders is also internal: what makes us different from one another, what separates and defines us as individuals, but also as a group?

The following artists and events were presented in the 2021 festival:

  • The Performance I Decided To Share My Love With You by Kiyoshi Yamamoto (BZ/NO) and Nayara Leite (BZ/NO) meant to raise awareness of LGBTQ+rights
  • A poetry reading by Timimie Märak (SÁ/SE)
  • A film screening and online Q&A by queer artist Thirza Cuthand (CA), curated by Kurant KinoBox (NO)
  • The community food-making and dinner Tromsø Folkekjøkkenet by Liv Bangsund (NO)
  • The Bike ‘n Drive-in of Sound Art off-site sound installation by artist Tulle Ruth (DK/NO) featuring sound works by Kristine Marie Aasvang (NO), Elina Waage Mikalsen (SÁ/NO) and Ragnhild May (DK)
  • Taking Root, a theatre/visual/sound performance by Hamid Waheed (NO), Eli Mai Huang Nesse (NO), Vilde Jensen (NO) and Kim Uglum Reenskaug (NO)
  • The launch of the Open Out publication With Our Hearts In Our Mouths, with contributions by Sofie Fossli (SÁ/NO), Runa Halleraker (NO), Eleni Ieremia (SE/GR), and others
  • YUMMI Invites You to Dinner, a food andart event by performance group Middagsklubben Yummi (NO/SE/DK)
  • 2 sessions of Thought & Pleasure artist talks organized together with Karmaklubb*  (NO) featuring Queering Architectures performance/talk by artists Danja Burchard (DE/NO) and Maike Statz(AU/NO) and ceramic collective Skeiv Kopp(NO)
  • A public conversation between Tine Semb from Karmaklubb* and Open Out organizers

The festival also hosted 2 evening events featuring art and DJ sets: The Festival Opening Night with a conversation about the importance of safe space and the Festival Closing Night.

Contribution from independent Russian artist at the 2021 festival

During the 2021 festival a digital performance by the Russian artist Mari Mednikova was screened at the harbour terminal in Tromsø—a public space that is visited by many people every day.

About the artist and the performance

Mari Mednikova (b.1997) is a Russian artist, who lives and works in Moscow. The general field of her study is ontology, while, currently, it is narrowed down to a study of the interconnection between the everyday and transcendency. She reflects on such inconceivable concepts as life and death, fate, time, space and the transformation of matter using various mediums: mixed media, embroidery, sculpture, dance (video), ready-made objects and printmaking. Mari’s works are based on the sensations she experiences from the named concepts as well as on various sources from psychology and philosophy to physics and beliefs. 

A Little Window is a reflection on the concepts of privacy, space and time. Dancing itself is a way to reflect on the notion of time. As seen in life, time can exist as a whole only as a trace in memory; however, recorded, it can be crystallized and dragged out from the cage of mind. Fabric is both a curtain and a sheet and refers to Walter Benjamin’s notes on Napoli and Moscow. The private moment of dancing in a flat is shared with the public in Tromsø, just as it always is with the neighbours from the opposite building in Moscow. Dancing shrinks space between cities, bringing the artist into the country she’s always dreamed of visiting. A rectangle of the video is a window allowing one to make a voyeuristic glance at a specific fixated moment of time and space.

An excerpt of the performance is available here:


This story is part of the Barents Secretariat Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.



The Norwegian Barents Secretariat strongly condemns Russia’s unprecedented military aggression against Ukraine.

The Barents Cooperation was established as a peace project in 1993, after 45 years of cold war. The foundation of the Barents Cooperation has always been people-to-people contact. The goal of the Barents cooperation is to remove cultural barriers and to build bridges across borders. During almost 30 years, we have gone from closed borders to close ties between the people in the Barents Region. The cooperation between people from all areas of society like schools, municipalities, NGOs and cultural institutions, the so-called people-to people-perspective, is an important keystone. Through meetings between people in the region we build down barriers and increase our mutual understanding.

Unfortunately, people-to-people cross-border cooperation in the north has long been constrained due to the increasingly authoritarian regime in Russia. The situation for civil society is now extremely difficult, and the uncertainty arising from Russia’s military attacks makes effective cross-border cooperation even more challenging. Unfortunately, the impacts of this will be felt at the local level, particularly by people living in the north.

In our spotlight the Norwegian Barents Secretariat will focus on the positive and successful cooperation between artists and cultural institutions that normally takes place across the Norwegian-Russian border.

While the Norwegian Barents Secretariat stands behind the Norwegian government’s demand that Russia immediately ceases its military operations and seeks a peaceful solution, we will continue to support people-to-people cooperation and contact. In the current situation we have suspended contact and cooperation with official Russian entities, but encourage contact and cooperation with independent Russian artists and organisations.