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Nikola-Lenivets: An Art Landlord

An Art Landlord

Searching for the Universal mind, you can wander through distant nebulae and galaxies for a long time. But, here is another option - an art version of the Universal mind. Come to Nikola-Lenivets and look right inside this very "mind", into the "brain" of the Universe, whose wooden neurones or thoughts covered with mirror-like metal plates are intertwined like a snake ball. If you do not understand what I mean, then you have not yet reached the first land-art park in Russia.

Only the laziest still did not hear about Nikola-Lenivets. The same ones still didn’t come here, to the Kaluga region, to see the art installations that were built in the middle of fields surrounded by green grass and stacks of fresh hay. There are 33 objects at the moment. Some are irrevocably burned during the Maslenitsa celebration and Archstoyanie festival, others remain for a long time and finally made their place in the sun.

“I invented it all,” says Nikolay Polissky smiling proudly, the artist and the ideological inspirer of the project 'Nikola-Lenivets'. I visited him on a warm summer day, we sat on the veranda of his house, overlooking the Ugra River. In the distance one of the very first objects of the art park can be seen - 'The lighthouse,' built in 2004. It is a little shabby from the wind and bad weather, but is still standing on the banks of the river.

“It all started in 2000,” recalls Nikolai. He lights a cigarette and gazes thoughtfully at the wooden structures in the yard. “By that time I had lived here for 10 years. It was a difficult period for me. I was 42 years old and I was changing as an artist. That was like a somersault in my art career. An artist cannot always 'live' in the 17th century… In Soviet times, we painted classical pictures, sculpted statues. But the world was changing fast, even 20 years ago, we began to learn it and it turned out that you cannot just paint a landscape, but build something in the landscape, live and create in it. Moreover, with the help of other people. By that time, people from the neighbouring Zvizzhi village had already gotten to know me pretty well and I suggested that we all create some collective art together. Art became different and it became interesting to me. Sculptures in a large space, built with the help of the locals, turned out to be trendy."

The first project in Nikola-Lenivets was 'Snowmen', dozens of snowmen, with buckets on their heads, stood for several months and melted in the spring. In the summer, the whole village was  stacking, helping to build the 'Hay Ziggurat'.

“Artists usually dream of something eternal, they hew something out of granite, and I started with snow, continued to work with hay and vines. And an amazing thing happened - some works were able to live in myths. And the myth, as you know, is a much more tenacious thing than a granite sculpture. I was younger then, it seemed that a new sculpture in a large space does not have to live long. I don't like if the land is not 'trashed': when something is done, people looked at it, and then it disappeared."

“All our 'long-term projects' appeared in Nikola-Lenivets with the help of other artists, who joined me when I came up with the Archstoyanie festival in 2005.” Throughout the years of the festival, more than 100 various art objects have appeared on the territory of the art park. The artist creating most of the monumental buildings is Nikolai Polissky. But there are also 'guest' objects. 'The Bernaskoni Arch', standing at the border of the field and the forest, was created by the eponymous architectural bureau in 2012. 'Rotunda' with dozens of old doors was built by Alexander Brodsky, ‘The Gold Plated Bull' was 'released' into the field by Vasily Shchetinin.

  • Orange fact
    In 2020, from September 4-6, the Archstoyanie festival will be held for the 15th time. The  festival’s theme will be 'Laziness'. The headliner of the festival, artist Igor Shelkovsky, will perform his 'Red Forest’. The apartment house project by Alexey Luka will also be presented, as well as the mythological gazebo of Ivan Gorshkov. The program also includes performances, musical sets and lectures on ecology.

The monumental objects first appeared in the fields that once belonged to the collective farm "Druzhba", and then also on the lands of the Ugra National Park. Nobody is against outdoor art. “Our cooperation with the park is productive, it is a combination of caring for both the nature and the art located in it. There are some protected areas in the park where various animals live, but people don't go there, “ Nikolay continues.


“I chose the right time. The collective farm land was abandoned and the local people were not needed. I did not ask anyone for any advice or permission. And the people - local peasants, even alcoholics, they were not busy at all and helped me with great enthusiasm, because it was entertainment for them, and I also gave them some small money, which I could earn in Moscow. It was and still is our 'partisan squad'. Pretty modest and not rich at all. But this is how people live in nature."

The art objects are located far away from each other, well, no kidding - the territory of the art park is almost 600 hectares! One day is not enough to take a close look at all the objects. You need some form of transportation here, the most convenient way to get around is by bike or car. Nikolay Polissky claims that landscape installations are located so as not to interfere with each other. Each object is in its own space. Neither people nor sculptures should interfere with each other. The artist is assured - if there are 50 people around a particular installation at one moment, the meaning of the creation is lost. 

“We declare a focused relationship between nature and art. A visitor accidentally finds an object, it takes a while to reach it. While walking, the visitor is thinking about what it is. People love to play these games. I would compare it to a scene from 'Ruslan and Lyudmila’ (the poem by Pushkin), when the main character saw a giant head of a hero in an open field and he had to somehow communicate with this head.” If you look from above from the hill of Zvizzhi village, you will see ‘The White Gates', and if you go down a little lower - they disappear. But there will be 'Ugruan', and then the 22-meter high "Bobur". For me, this is a kind of natural puzzle, not a master plan for construction.”

Installations in Nikola-Lenivets are updated, but not so often. A new large object appears approximately every 3-4 years. 'The Universal Mind' - is the project of 2012, then in 2013 was twines of birch vines "Bobur" - it looks like either a bunch of saxophones, or a herd of trumpeting elephants.

The next will be 'Ugruan' - the first coloured construction at 20 meters tall and on the banks of the Ugra River; it reminds one of the "Rouen Cathedral” by the impressionist Claude Monet. This work by Nikolai Polissky is a kind of homage to French art. The first tier has already been built, but construction is now suspended until next spring. The artist’s group ran out of money.

I ask Nikolay how he sees Nikola-Lenivets in the near future. “I would like to build 7-8 more large objects, the territory’s space still allows this, we need to develop it. I would like people to stay in Nikola-Lenivets for a few days and take a leisurely walk, enjoy nature, pick mushrooms and berries, and take a close look at objects. To do this, we need to build more designer housing, like 'Villa PO-2' by architect Brodsky, his project was in all the magazines. I dream that the peasants will earn more, and we all have more opportunities to earn. I would like good artists to make good art in Nikola-Lenivets. But so far there are very few financial resources…“ 

How to get there: The easiest way is to drive from Moscow by car. It is about 220 km each way and will take about 3 hours.
Where to live: You can book houses and rooms in the art park. The list of accommodations is on the website: www.nikola-lenivets.ru

The general admission is: adults - 350 rubles, children under 14 years old - free. If you book a room, a ticket to the art park is included in the room’s rate.
Opening hours: 24 hours. Some art objects, such as 'General store', 'Lighthouse', pavilion 'Functional Mooing' are illuminated at night.

What to do in Nikola-Lenivets:

  • Find all the art objects on the map, and a dozen more unmarked ones.
  • Have a delicious lunch at a cafe in Zvizzhi village
  • Climb the steep stairs of ‘The Gold plated bull'
  • Swat a hundred mosquitoes
  • Look into the old Church of the Holy Trinity
  • Carve a wooden mosquito at a master-class
  • Swim in the Ugra river
  • Walk through the forest and collect mushrooms
  • Experience a digital detox - in Nikola-Lenivets none of the cell phone operators work.
  • Prepare mentally for bad roads in the Kaluga region


The project "Four Seasons of Russia" is supported by the Russian Geographical Society www.rgo.ru
The trip to Nikola-Lenivets is recommended by the Russian Geographical Society.

Translation: Irina Romanova, Instagram: @astrabella1

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