Nikola-Lenivets: a Story of a Village
Nikola-Lenivets has been the "place of power" for 25 years already. At first, as a settlement of free artists who left noisy cities for the sake of practicing arts in nature's lap; later as a testing ground for architectural experiments that ended in Archstoyanie festival; and finally, as a cultural center and Europe's largest landscape park.
Field grass was lashing against his feet, and the sun was getting hotter. A young man – jeans, checkered shirt, long disheveled hair (is he a hippie?) – was striding across the field ringing with thousands of grasshoppers; he had a very dim idea of where exactly he was going, but he was confident he would not stop until he found what he was looking for.

The man's name was Vasily Shchetinin. A young architect, fresh from the Moscow Institute of Architecture, he was facing dull prospects of working at a design institute or an integrated homebuilding factory, a job as monotonous as the surface of foamed concrete (the best option could be to build dachas – summer residences for those still enjoying the titles of Communist Party VIPs). Yet Shchetinin was longing for free thinking and creative infinity - after all, he already knew what free creative work was like. Being a regular soldier in 1986, he created decorations for the Olympics of Warsaw pact member states' armies: at first he invented and then created navigation signs for the then Europe's largest mountain skiing complex in Raubichi, Belarus (he did it almost with his bare hands, having gathered a small team of assistants, having only paint and paint rollers at their disposal). In 1989, Shchetinin traveled from Moscow to Leningrad as a member of dissembler Slava Polunin's "Caravan of Peace"; he carried "Ikarushka" kinetic sculpture which became a mascot of this mad procession.

Inspired by their cooperation, Polunin suggested Shchetinin to create a "city-theater" nearby the present-day St. Petersburg – it was going to be a kind of a free artist settlement where everyone would be able to engage in creative activities – but the wonderful idea was crushed by harsh realities of the country falling to pieces. That was when they parted: Polunin left for France, and Shchetinin stayed in Moscow. He hated the thought of returning to everyday drabness, and he decided to bring to life the idea of a creative settlement which had become his own dream at that time, and do it at whatever cost. What he needed was to find a suitable place.
"I had a plan of creating a settlement of free artists where everyone could do something interesting - in the open air or under a sunshade - the way you like it. I wanted to show with my personal example that it is possible, and gather more other people."
Vasily Shchetinin
He decided the place should be not too close and not too far from Moscow, so that one could get there by a suburban electric train. It should be deserted enough (to have much free space) but with a shade of history. There must be a full-flowing river and high banks to sit on watching the river flow by; there also should be a field and a forest. There also should be an abandoned church (to be restored which would be their paying of a symbolic tribute to this place). One of his friends mentioned a ford on the Ugra river where the famous standing - the "battle without blood" took place, an event both historic and metaphorical. Shchetinin realized – this was it – and started his search.

The meeting was almost accidental though Shchetinin was stubborn and persistent in looking for it. A group of retired paratroopers had a picnic on the bank of the Ugra River – fishing rods, harpoon guns, a fire and mead (honey wine). Suddenly they discovered many common topics with the hippy who was passing by (people who served in the army always have someting to discuss); it was already afternoon when someone remembered there was an abandoned village with a church on a steep bank nearby. Its name was Nikola-Lenivets.

Shchetinin walked there in one day.
Back in 1989, Nikola-Lenivets was a godforsaken village with three people living there (granny Katia, uncle Vania and Anna Romanovna), where architect Vasily Shchetinin dreamt to live and create his art in the surroundings of beauty, simplicity and wild nature. In the 1990s, romantic spirits wend down: in order to survive in this piece of land which had been so hard to find (sure, he could have escaped back to Moscow, but...) one had to negotiate things with officials, build cottages for local bigwigs and almost become the chairman of a collective farm quickly falling apart. Shchetinin continued to struggle with Nikola-Lenivets mud and kept on inviting his friends-artists to visit him. This is how hippy artist Nikolay Polisskiy (the only Muscovite from the classic Mityok hippy group), graphic designer Vasily Kopeiko who served in the army with Shchetinin, and artist Anna Chizhova (later Shchetinina) who arrived from London with her daughter Yulia Bychkova came to live there; other people with attentive eyes and artistic hands came to gradually settle in this wonderful place, either colonizing it or being captivated by its magic – it is hard to say.

For example, Polissky painted landscapes like crazy – the same winding River Ugra near the bluff – and one day he decided he could do without any canvas and brushes but change the space around him. This is how the first land art object appeared in Nikola-Lenivets – an army of snowmen coming down to the river. They lasted only for a little while before melting, but the village began to change a lot.
The crew was the first to appear. People from nearby villages, who had thought at first that the newcomers were mad city residents (and if a madman was willing to pay ten rubles for a snowman, then why not make a hundred of them?) now felt as if they were artists too. They were enthusiastic to build majestic structures which impressed them deeply – and crackled in the Pancake Week fires so cheerfully.

The evanescence of the 10-meter-high Sennaya (Hay) Tower, Drovnik (Wood Shed) and cane-and-twig Media Tower were inevitable results of following the main idea – respectful attitude to the environment. Towers and belvederes were built with natural materials, and they stood just as long as the nature permitted them, and went down each at its proper time.
"My goal was to combine the kindness of nature and strong impressions from art. Just imagine it: a person walking in the forest, enjoying the nature and suddenly facing an obvious work of art – a work that is shocking him; absolutely mad and astounding."
Nikolay Polissky
In 2004, the first long-life object came into existence. The 18-meter-high Mayak (Lighthouse) on the River Ugra which has soon become the symbol of Nikola-Lenivets was erected in three months without using a single nail (but with a metal frame inside it). The journalists who came to the presentation of Mayak asked Polissky about his plans for the future – and he planned a festival.
The idea was around for a long time and came into a tangible form after the crew visited ArtKliazma festival in the autumn of 2003. Next winter, during the Pancake Week, another art object was set on fire, accompanied with a performance by artist German Vinogradov and great number of audience – and it was clear that Nikola-Lenivets is bound to have its own festival one day.

The first Archstoyanie event took place in 2006. The name was taken from Stoyanie on the Ugra which occurred somewhere near here 800 years ago. The organizers were Vasily Kopeiko, Vasily and Anna Shchetinin, Nikolay Polissky, while Yulia Bychkova and Anton Kochurkin acted as supervisors; well-known architects and artists were invited to participate. This is when "Nikolino Ukho" (Nikola's Ear) by Vlad Savinkin and Vladimir Kuzmin appeared (at that time, it was yellow, the color of fresh wood – and only in several years it acquired its present-day silvery tint), and in a grove nearby, Yuri Grigorian's Shed was built, a structure with its walls penetrated by millions of holes: during the day it looks like an observatory, and in the night – like a magic lantern.
Archstoyanie became the main event of Nikola-Lenivets. Every year architects and artists created objects fitted into the landscape; some of them became a part of the park, others left, and some others disappeared ("[architects were given] a chance to create temporary objects by suing natural materials and allowing their self-modification, transformation and even degradation into ruins," the organizers explained). In 2009, Versal (" Versailles") broke this tradition.

Landscape designers Francois Vedepied and Mathieu Gontier from WAGON LANDSCAPING found the idea of how to turn the deserted land into a park following the best traditions of Versailles Landscape School (Ecole Nationale Superieure du Paysage Versailles (ENSP Versailles)): in the underbrush the cut breaks that became valleys, the field was sown (at first by buckwheat and later by sunflowers), and let a herd of cows into the territory to add the last details. Versal is changing, as well as everything else in Nikola-Lenivets, but every year Vedepied and Gontier come to take care of the park and combine it with teaching at Landscape Workshops of Nikola-Lenivets.
The 2006 Archstoyanie was visited by several hundred people. In 2014, there were about 8,000 guests. There is one more milestone between the two events: the coming of businessman Maksim Nogotkov to Nikola-Lenivets. At first he just gave money to the park as financial assistance until he bought out 612 hectares of land and began developing this territory. Hotels, campings, cafes, wi-fi and highly topical program appeared in the park thanks to the specially founded asset management company Archpolis. Nogotkov himself would stay in a tent when coming here, and his tent was always in the loneliest spot.

Archpolis started a number of teeming activities. While architect Evgeniy Ass was developing a General Plan for a project of creative residences – a cherished dream of Vasily Shchetinin which he brought to Nikola-Lenivets 25 years ago – Nikolay Polissky and his team were building huge objects, Bobur and Vselensky Razum (Universal Intelligence). The opening of the first object was timed to coincide with the cognominal festival of French art, and the second was the main stage of the new festival – New Media Night.
The contrast between digital art and natural environment is only seeming: the artists working with sound, light, program code and smells, have brought the principle of temporality – founded by the first snowmen army – to the utmost degree. Everything that emitted light and sound in the night, disappeared with dawn – yet it was not gone for good, because the festival was successful and became an annual event, just as Archstoyanie. Moreover, it became "infectious" – thanks to the event, new media have settled in Nikola-Lenivest which resulted in several seasons of almost permanent residences and workshops. In 2014, New Media Night was attended by twenty media artists from Russia, Great Britain, Germany, the USA, South Korea and 5,000 spectators.

Yet at the end of the following year Maksim Nogotkov lost a major part of his business and left for the Silicon Valley.
"I enjoy projects which do not try to make something more effective or do the same but at a cheaper cost. I like working with projects which create something new."
Максим Ноготков
The 2015 Archstoyanie was filled with boldness and anxiety. All interviews with supervisors were doomed to end with the same question type, "What would you do now, without your chief sponsor?" Yulia Bychkova, Anton Kochurkin and Ivan Polissky (the supervisor of New Media Night) explained that the development of infrastructure would have to be suspended but the park would be there. The art residence project has been completed and the only thing left to do is to find the investor. Festivals are not going to disappear.

Light panic was added by a feeling of novelty – for the first time, Archstoyanie left Nikola-Lenivets (it was decided to spare the territory of the park which is a part of Ugra National Park) for the neighboring village of Zvizji. Some new objects appeared; the most noticeable was Selpo by Nikolay Polissky, something looking like a wooden sarcophagus erected over the ruins of a store which closed down at about the same time when Polissky himself was beginning to settle in this area. Over the porch of the village club there is now a marquee looking like a fanciful shell; the only bus stop has now acquired a pavilion made out of an upset flour container truck, and in the middle of the field there is a column which does not actually support anything but inside which you can find a kind of a museum of rural life.
What is there to follow? As usual: autumn, winter, spring and summer. The page is turned, and the new era in the history of Nikola-Lenivets began. We do not know what it will be like, how long it will last and how will it end, but we are sure that is going to be the way it should be. The park that had begun with an army of snowmen that melted on the first strike of thaw cannot be unchangeable by the very definition, but this is where the power of Nikola-Lenivets lies. The only permanent thing here might be the habit of arranging interesting events and creating new art objects. And then burn some of them during the Pancake Week.
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