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The Arts

Back to Nature
Visitors to this year’s Klyazma Art Festival will find the view from atop a meandering steel structure to be out of this world. For the architectural team that created it, the sky’s the limit.
By Clem Cecil
Photographs by Luke Tchalenko

Distracted by naked Austrian artists performing in the trees, visitors to September’s Klyazma Art Festival may at first not notice the giant climbing frame which is camouflaged by the shimmering leaves of a birch grove. Follow the scaffolding which is intertwined with the white tree trunks and you will enter a magical world; delight in the view from the top, gazing out over the Klyazma reservoir from among the nodding tips of the great Russian birches.

Lesa v Lesakh (Scaffolding in the Woods) is the creation of the Iced Architects, a group of Muscovites whose radical designs are drawing growing attention in Russia and abroad. The organizers of the first Klyazma festival three years ago liked Lesa so much they asked its creators to make it a permanent installation. It will be on display during this year’s festival September 10-12.

The scaffolding stands on the ground by the reservoir, held in place by the sand. At a height of 15 meters, it is a little lower than the treetops. A platform built on scaffolding slopes down to the water’s edge where, during the festival, outlandish installations will be floating: a chair and a lamp on a tiny raft bobbing in the water, a giant cardboard figure conducting a silent opera.

Lesa is the bare bones of architecture, it is all exterior. Low translucent plastic walls give the structure a whisper of solidity but most of the time visitors feel as if they are flying – and catching glimpses of the birch trees and the surroundings that a building would never afford them.

September 10-12

Designed to blow away end of summer blues, Muscovites have a treat in store in the second week of September. Head 30 kilometers north of Moscow on September 10th for the grand opening of the third Klyazma Art Festival.

The open-air event has gathered momentum and international renown: this year 200 artists from all over the world will take part in the provocative merry-making on the grounds of a former Soviet sanatorium.

Tickets are 100 rubles at the door, and the opening will take place in a flurry of fireworks at 6pm on Friday, and live music will play deep into the night, a background to the art works hung on every conceivable tree branch. Some are on show on the banks of the reservoir, others on the water itself or in the air above the water. Some are in the abandoned reservoir buildings and specially built venues. Curated by leading Moscow artist Vladimir Dubosarsky, expect to see Russia’s top architects and artists, a collection of more adventurous international artists as well.

A giant wooden bar stands on the reservoir beach, serving drinks and food 24-hours a day for the duration of the weekend. This year only the intrepid, or the soused, will spend the entire weekend out by the Klyazma: the sanatorium buildings that housed guests in former years have been knocked down. Visitors are invited to camp or curl up in the branches of Lesa v Lesakh or to make the short journey out to the reservoir every day.

This year the festival has a theme: “New Russian Reality” and all of the artists have been invited to express their take on the changes that have rocked Russia in recent years. Visitors can expect to witness a “terrorist attack” on a bus staged by artist Mikhail Roshel, and reflections on nationalism, the stranglehold of advertising and new concepts of happiness.

If that all sounds too heavy, never fear, Art Klyazma is famous for its wild, irreverent spirit. If you are lucky you may catch German Vinogradov doing his impersonation of a naked woman while draped in fairy lights on the roof of the sanatorium. Oh, and the swimming’s good!

by Clem Cecil

Alexei Kononenko, one of the Iced Architects, in a dirty long green linen coat that flaps in the wind, looks like a wood sprite, perfectly at home in the world he has built. He dreams of making Lesa into a library, but ultimately wants to see people living in it permanently. “We will build a chain of Lesa along Russia’s forest belt, right into Siberia – cars will become redundant,” he says. This seems an extraordinary idea coming from a Russian architect, but according to Alexei, Russia is not a slave to the winter and he sees no reason why a large portion of the population shouldn’t live in giant treehouses without walls.

As a statement against modern Moscow architecture the Iced Architects designed a house together with the Tkachenko architecture studio, in the shape of a giant egg, sitting on huge white Baroque scrolls. “And the amazing thing is – they built it,” Alexei says. The same partnership created the controversial Dom na Patriarshikh overlooking Patriarch’s Ponds in central Moscow, capped with a 21st century version of Tatlin’s spiraling tower, a stroke of inspiration from Alexei.

In 2000, to “express the euphoria of the new century” the Iced Architects designed a bridge over the Moskva River that actually dances along the water rather than crossing it in one place. The design won a prize and is currently being adapted to run over the railway lines of Kievsky Station.

Another prize-winning project was “Lyulka” (crib), an “ingenious scheme” to solve Moscow’s homeless problem. Platforms on a pulley system, as used by window cleaners, are suspended from the eaves of buildings, one for each homeless person. Again the Iced Architects turn reality on its head: creating outdoor structures and denying the cold. They envisage each homeless person sleeping on their own crib, beside their own set of shelves (complete with alarm clock and potted plants according to their designs.) The homeless people are able to guide the crib up and down the facade of the building, knocking on windows for alms as they go.

The four Iced Architects met in the Moscow squat scene of the late 1980s. Ilya Voznesensky, one of the original group members, also plays in the band Korabl that is famous for its cover versions of foreign songs in comic Russian translation: (No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley becomes: “‘No woman, no tears. Nobody says ‘where were you all night? And where’s all the money all gone?’”) Voznesensky’s fans range from sophisticated architecture buffs to grungy teenagers.

The Iced Architects recently entered a new phase of their careers when they lowered the contents of their modest attic studio down to the Old Arbat and moved into the gleaming studios of Sergei Tkachenko, where they are now busy drawing up designs for sixty skyscrapers which are to adorn the city. The Iced Architects want to place them in a circle, like the minutes on a clock, transforming the Russian capital into a giant timepiece.

Yet the Iced Architects seem to ignore their own clocks and are often up all night in their office, concocting new ways of redefining the world around them. Spread across their desks are drawings of a bridge which, when built, will span the Bering Strait: sci-fi hotels loom over the ice flows of their imagination. Meanwhile, they are waiting on the reaction of the governor of Chukotka, one Roman Abramovich, hoping that his pockets may be deep enough to fund the project.

Closer to home, and grounded more firmly in reality, the group’s projects include a dentist visit intended to minimize pain, and the tranquil interior of Sei Eji, a Japanese restaurant on Timur Frunze Street.

Meanwhile, Lesa is slowly becoming one with the birch grove it inhabits as the birch trees entwine themselves around the slender scaffolding. Bring your sleeping bags to the Klyazma Art Festival and nest down like a bird on Lesa’s platforms in the branches. You will be able to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the events unfolding below you, and catch a glimpse of the sun’s first rays of morning as they dance across the reservoir.

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