A ‘radioactive’ cultural festival which aims to bring Chernobyl and its community back to life will makes its debut later this month, following months of hard work for project leader Claire Baker.
The textile lecturer from Cleveland College of Art and Design (CCAD) has overcome numerous challenges to help create the unique and innovative Chernobyling Festival, which launches on 30 August in Ukrainian city of Slavutych, 60km from Chernobyl.
Working with a team of international artists, community leaders and tour operators, Claire, from Norton, has spent the past few months planning and organising artists and developing a programme of activities for visitors to the Festival.
‘Chernobyling’, which was just a concept a few months ago, will very soon become a reality, with visitors expected from across the Ukraine, UK, Germany and Europe. The three-day event includes free entry, with a series of lectures and variety of music on offer, and a small fee for the art workshops.
One of the highlights of the artistic programme will be an installation at the iconic fairground in Pripyat by Polish street artist NeSpoon, who combines lace-making, ceramics and street art to create “public jewellery”.
Participants in the day-long workshop will be taught NeSpoon’s specialist creative web technique and work with her to produce an iconic and exceptional eye-catching piece of public art in the most iconic area of Pripyat; the amusement park.
Claire believes that this first festival will create a keen following and there are already talks about next year’s event. She said: “I actually can’t believe I have done it. Getting involved with this project and working with these people has been amazing and I am really excited, although there have been lots of challenges and at times it has felt like a full time job alongside my other full time job at the college!
“It has been such a different experience from my everyday life and an exciting time to be part of something new and fresh. The workshop with NeSpoon will be amazing and to gain official permission on such an iconic part of Pripyat is a real privilege.
“Even though it’s the first festival, it will have an impact and lasting effect on the Chernobyl region and the community. Nicola Golightly, a UK graphic designer and visual artist, will be helping participants to create handmade books with cyanotype prints, which will form part of a ‘Chernobyl Library’ and permanently on display in Slavutych Public Library. These will also feature poetry created by the community, where they will also be proudly on display for future generations.
Artist and designer Nicola Golightly, said: “I’m thrilled to be invited to play a part in Chernobyling in its debut year, creatively connecting with people from across the world.”
NeSpoon said: “I’m really excited about working at this Festival and especially Pripyat, as it looks amazing.”
A successful Kickstarter campaign which well exceeded its target to raise over £2,300 from almost 70 backers has helped to bring the Festival to life, with artists including fine art photographer Thierry Vanhuysse from Belgium taking part in the event.
The ethos of the festival is ‘Hope for the Future’, bringing people together with the same passions to help build a community with a strong future community, as Claire explains:“The whole community and town council of Slavutych are really on board with this festival and very excited. It will be a real boost for them and something out of the ordinary that everyone can join in, as we have art workshops for children. Even though it is a small festival for us it is a major event for them and they are taking an active role in it, with presentations to visitors on their lives and the impact of Chernobyl. All proceeds from the event will be given to the self-settlers within the Chernobyl region.”
Ivan Ivanovich, a Chernobyl zone resident and “self-settler”, said: “Sometimes some people do come to visit me and ask questions, but no one ever invited me for anything like this before. I’m looking forward to it. I love meeting people as there is not so many of them to talk to in my village. I like the idea of friendship nations. That is how it should be as we are strong only when we are together.”
Thierry Vanhuysse, fine art photographer, said: “I am very excited to be invited to give a photography workshop in the zone. I lost my heart here on the first visit…I enjoy being here and “feel” what the zone is and what makes it so special to me – the feeling of positive melancholy touches me every time I get to visit here.”
Leading political and social documentary film maker Lara Lee has also expressed an interest in attending the Festival with a view to interviewing the artists, the workshops and the talks by the community for a short film, which is now in the planning stages.
Claire added: “This ‘radioactive’ festival will join together the people who love Chernobyl, Pripyat and the Zone itself, who want to further explore it and get to know the human side of it more, through the unique festival atmosphere. As well as three full days of adventure, new friendships, fun and relaxation, there is also a strong aspect of altruism – with the important focus on preserving the zone for our next generations.
“Last year 36 thousand tourists visited the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the number is almost doubling every year. There are also over 5,000 workers, who take care of the zone itself, the Chernobyl Power Plant and are still working on the New Safe Confinement. And, last but certainly not least, there are around 150 Self-Settlers, also called the ‘Chernobyl Babushkas and Dedushkas’, who are well known for their warm hearts and who live in the zone in very poor conditions.
“The festival is directly dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the zone for our next generations and to its inhabitants – for medication and to improve their standard of living.
“Chernobyl is not only a place of tragedy that changed the world, it is a piece of history, a memorial to heroism and a lesson for mankind and… it helped bring communism to an end. In order to make it complete, a place where people are willing to help each other again, a place of unity and true camaraderie, we need to make it live again.”
Works inspired from previous visits to Chernobyl will feature in an upcoming touring exhibition commemorating the 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster. Claire, project leader for a group of exhibiting artists known as 26:86 Collective, will showcase her artwork as part of the multi-disciplinary exhibition at Hartlepool Art Gallery next month. For more information, please visit www.hartlepoolartgallery.co.uk
For more information on Chernobyling, please visit https://chernobyling.com/en/