Alexander Luzanov and Olesya Angelova-Gashitskaya. Source: Press photo
I met Alexander Luzanov and his assistant Olesya Angelova-Gashitskaya on Vasilevsky Island, where his dolls were first spotted. They are fragile objects that fit in the palm of your hand, suddenly appearing in the cracks of old St. Petersburg houses. He named his project "Between Ecolo."
"Sasha, they were broken again. You need to install them better, otherwise the dolls will always be stolen, even before people find them!" Olesya, a themed-quest designer, admonishes the artist. "Olesya, I installed them well, I literally sank them into the cement," he replies. "Someone came and broke them out deliberately, understand?"
"Excuse me," Alexander turns to me. "The quest is five weeks long; two dolls appear every week. It is very fast, I spend all day and night in the studio..." No one pays the doll maker for his work, he buys all the materials with his own money.
Ever since his childhood, dolls have been a passion for Luzanov. He said he has has long wanted to place his dolls on the streets.
Source: Press photo
"We've learned that a doll is something from a salon, something that is in a room," he said. "The street is an unusual environment for dolls. Porcelain is considered a brittle material, but in reality, it is not afraid of our weather, rain and wind. It is only afraid of human impact."
Luzanov did not think of organizing quests for city residents. He just began installing porcelain dolls in unusual places around St. Petersburg and, as people began to find them, they thought it was a game – "Find the doll."
So Luzanov and his assistant Olesya decided to organize a themed quest.
The dolls first appeared on Vasilyevsky Island. They were mock-ups, the first attempts to realize a long-standing idea. Suddenly, the dolls hidden within the island's back streets were found by a tourist group from Moscow. Photos appeared on the internet, the idea swiftly gained popularity, and people began searching for new dolls.
"I watched in horror as pictures floated around Russian internet sites," Luzanov said. "And everyone was looking for the creator! I tried to remain anonymous, because I knew that I would have to work twice as much. But in the end I just did not have time to catch all the references about myself, and finally they got me," the artist added, with a laugh.
After the initial bursts of excitement, interpretations of the doll maker's creations made their way onto the internet.
"Everyone started to think that this was a protest," Luzanov said. "Because everyone thinks that contemporary art is always a protest."
Source: Press photo
The dolls then took on a life of their own. Even before the quest, people invented routes, looking for new dolls.
"Because the first dolls appeared in places where the fairytale Black Hen takes place, everybody thought that I was depicting the tale's characters," the artist continued. "We decided to play along with this idea, and I made a hen doll, which converts to Minister Chernushka" (Black Hen, or Living Underground is a well-known Russian tale written in 1829 by Anthony Pogorelsky. Minister Chernushka is a character in the tale –RIR).
The logistics of the quest and the website were literally designed and put in place overnight. Every Monday, participants are given the first clue about where to look for the doll. Before the weekend, two more clues appear. It can be as simple as a picture of a tree near the place where the doll was installed.
"I am always amazed at how well people know the city, how quickly they find the dolls," Olesya said. "Sasha sets them at night, and the person who finds the doll first is invited to the installation of the next one."
Initially, Alexander and Olesya thought the invitation to join the artist to install a doll was a rather dubious prize. He usually does it at night, sometimes in the rain. But it turned out that participants are eager to participate, regardless of the time or weather.
"I even got a letter from a 12-year-old boy," Luzanov continued. "He couldn't find the dolls from the clues, but really wanted to help me. I invited him to come in the fall to a school where I teach children how to make dolls.
The quest involves about 100 loyal players. The doll maker once got a letter from a poet in Cherepovets, who offered to write poetry on behalf of the ‘Queen of the Night’ – the name for one of the dolls. The Queen now has her own Instagram page and a lot of fans.
Source: Press photo
"Imagine, a person comes home after finding the doll," Olesya said. "And the Queen of the Night begins to write long rhymed texts to them... And the funny thing is that many do not sleep until 4 a.m., they're chatting online with the Queen of the Night in verse!"
The quest will be over in early September. The "mad puppeteer" really wants to do something together with the city. The team of Between Ecolo has already been invited to organize a similar "hunt" in Spain. According to Olesya, there is even a construction company that wants to order a quest, and the prize will be keys to an apartment.
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