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24 September 2018

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Art Takes a Village

Author: Nadezhda Grebennikova
Translation: Paul E. Richardson
Illustrations/Images by Mikhail Mordasov

Sep/Oct 2016
Page 28   ( 8 pages)

Summary: The 11th International Festival of Landscape Art, Arkhstoyanie, took place on July 23-24 in Kaluga Oblast. We sent Nadezhda Grebennikova and Mikhail Mordasov to take a look.


The road to Europe’s largest land-art park is an adventure in and of itself. We whiz through the first 200 kilometers from Moscow along a perfectly pleasant (by Russian standards) highway. But then we turn off onto a side road and the final 20 kilometers of the route take nearly an hour, our car weaving, dodging, and bouncing over a “road” that is as much asphalt as it is pothole. It looks like Swiss cheese.

But even this road is a godsend, and without it Nikola-Lenivets might have been lost to the world. Instead, despite the challenging terrain, each summer some ten thousand visitors descend on this tiny village, hidden amid the forests and swamps of Kaluga Oblast. The majority of them are coming to see the International Festival of Landscape Design, Arkhstoyanie.

Our entry point for Arkhstoyanie, to which our little car miraculously hopped its way, is the village of Zvizzhi. The name has a strange resonance even to a Russian ear; it’s not easy to say, even sober. It sounds a bit like the noise a rusty violin makes, or the un-oiled hinge of a heavy gate. Or the cry of a piglet being slaughtered.

There is a legend about the origin of the town’s disharmonious name. Apparently, somewhere near here in 1480 there was a rather significant event: the Great Standoff on the Ugra River.* Mongol troops gathered on one side of the river, Russians on the other. The Mongols were trying to make the point that they expected the prompt payment of tribute. The Russians felt that they had been paying said tribute for 250 years, and that it was time to end that sort of thing.

There was no battle. The troops faced off against one another for several days, exchanging random salvos, then disbursed. It is generally believed that the Russians won the stand-off, helping to bring the Mongol Yoke to an end and paving the way toward their own independent state.

That is where history ends and legend begins. Apparently, during the Standoff, a Russian knight on the high banks of the river used his sword to slowly execute a pig, from which resounded such a horrendous squeal that it put the fear of God into the enemy. And it was this sound that gave rise to the name Zvizzhi.

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