Three former Strelka students – Varvara Degtiarenko, Maria Romakina and Dhanya Pilo took part in “The Scene over Ugra”, a project that was part of the festival’s parallel programme. Varvara Degtiarenko, art historian Some call Archstoyanie an open-air museum. This is interesting, just based on the definition of what art is, and can be. If one looks at life as art, then it can be very fascinating to discover the meaning of the landscape, and its relation to life and the people who actually live in the region, as opposed to those who only go there for the festival every year.
The project was initiated by Dutchmen William Speakman and Theo Tegelaers. The idea was to find out about the significance of the region's landscape to the locals. This was documented through film, both in the village and from a float along the river. The float was then rebuilt into a stage, where an adaptation of a poem found during our interviews was performed.
This poem appeared in one of the interviews with local people: the former director of a school in Pluskovo, a village 20 kilometers from Zvizzhi, and his wife, who has written a lot of poems about local landscapes. The one we chose transmitted the themes we investigated the best. We were lucky to find a girl who set the poem to music. Some musicians that were already involved in Archstoyanie ended up providing the percussion, piano, flute and bass guitar for the performance. Maria Romakina, journalist The first few days of the project were spent on conversations with the residents of Pluskovo. That is where we started to build the float and from here we moved down the Ugra river. We also spoke to villagers from Zvizzhi, where we would end up deconstructing the float into a stage. We were trying to understand the relationship between people and the river: the role of the river in their worldview, the level of its inclusion into everyday life, whether water usage limited by practical purposes or if there is still something sacred left.
We conducted interviews on the porches of village houses, in a bee garden and, of course, near the local shop – the most visited place in the village. It was interesting to find out that some people saw the river as an opportunity to move while others see it as a stop, making this settlement “the dead-end of the world”, blocking the construction of the road.
Artists and architects are not the first to try to revive and support these territories, and local attitude towards them is still mixed. Dutch entrepreneurs who introduced potato cultivation according to a particular harvest technology, and Thai founders of a pig farm brought values understandable to a rural folk and new job opportunities to the region, but artists, with their specific installations might seem to have less obvious benefit to the locals. Instead, one of the goals of our project was to invite inhabitants of Zvizzhi and Pluskovo to participate in the artistic life of Nikola-Lenivets and its surroundings. Dhanya Pilo, VJ, film director The project ended up being powerful and site-specific because of how simple it was. Apart from the adaptation of the poem, we also made a film about the landscape. The footage of the landscape on film is set to quotes from different people we met on the journey. In that sense, when you're watching this film, it is like the land is speaking. I think it worked. When we screened the film, some people from the audience cried. This really meant a lot to us. Additionally, it sparked dialogue between the people who came to the screening, the villagers and the park representatives. In that sense, it was really successful.