February 19, 2018

Ildar Khanov, Храм всех религий/Temple of all religions

this picture and the next one by unknown photographer

The picture above shows the temple of all religions, a singular architecture located in the small community of Staroye Arakchino, a suburb of the city of Kazan in the republic of Tatarstan, Russia. The story of this complex of church buildings is closely related to Ildar Khanov, but his younger brother Ilgiz Khanov, born in 1948, is also involved in this site, especially after Ildar's death.

Life and works

Ildar Khanov (1940-2013), born in Staroye Arakchino, as a child had a near-death experience in which he saw Jezus, who sent him back to earth saying that the boy was needed there. Although in relation with this experience Khanov developed skills as a healer and also acted as such, he opted for a career as a visual artist. He graduated in 1960 from the Kazan Art College, then studied until 1968 at the Moscow State Institute Surikov. In the same year he was admitted to the Union of Artists of the USSR.

Until 1994, the year his life took a different turn,  Khanov was a productive artist, creating hundreds of paintings and a variety of monumental sculptures. In those years he also visited India and Tibet, immersed himself in Eastern medicine and Buddhism.

With the famous Russian artist Swetoslav Roerich (1904-1933), who spent a large part of his life in India, he discussed the idea of building an ecumenical temple, an impracticable plan in the then USSR.

That changed when in the early 1990's the Soviet Union collapsed and in 1994 the time was there that Khanov would start to realize his plan.

The story goes that Khanov had a dream in which Jesus appeared who ordered him to build the eucumenic temple, whereupon Khanov began to level the terrain outside the parental home and in a short time a friend came by who promised to send 15 masons to assist him in doing the job.

Ildar Khanov's brother Ilgiz has related that the earliest beginning of the temple complex was in the late 1970's. Then Ilgiz built a fence around the parental house with a part from stone that later became the wall of one of the temples and when Ildar in 1994 began his construction, two domes of the future building were already present.

view (2015) from the air 
(screenprint from the video listed in the documentation)

The realization of the complex

Anyway, it was Ildar who in 1994 took the lead in the construction process. He had an education in visual art, but in the field of architecture he must have been self-taught.

As can be seen on above aerial picture the complex located between a main road and a railway line, in 2015 included a variety of buildings, covering a rather large area of some 6 hectares (14.8 acres).

 this picture and the next five are screen prints
from the video (2016) in the documentation by Lyudmila Koledova

Khanov undoubtedly got assistance in realizing the various structures. In publications about the temple complex there is talk of a foreman who was involved in the construction, as well as of the help of people from Khanov's practice as a healer.

the Egyptian hall

Although the realization of the complex was not undisputed, it may be that in the purchase of building material Khanov got help from interested parties through donations in the form of materials or in monetary amounts.

Buddhist scenes

However, decorating the exteriors and interiors of the altogether sixteen buildings, representing just as many religions, in all probability was done by Khanov himself. The domes, pinnacles and upright walls, usually provided with geometrically arranged patterns, are decorated in a multi-colored fashion or provided with mosaic.

The indoor spaces have been embellished with frescoes and sculptures, in general with a religious connotation in line with the religion to which the building in question is dedicated. One encounters Islamic, Jewish and Christian symbols, a variety of flowers and rings and the Masonic eye is also present.

In furnishing the rooms use was made of materials or utensils that had become superfluous elsewhere. For example, the hall of the Catholic Church is furnished with chairs from a theater that renewed its original interior. Such venues were used, for example, for charity concerts.

ceiling of the Catholic Church

Khanov passed away in 2013

When Khanov passed away in February 2013, the complex was not yet completed, but it had largely reached the size as indicated on the aerial photograph. This means that Khanov has done a great job in the almost twenty years he (with the help of others) has been active in creating the temple complex.

Khanov had legated the complex to his family, but the foreman who was involved in its construction thought that the complex belonged to him and confiscated it. The family started a lawsuit, which lasted for several years, until early 2017 judgment was made in favor of the family. During these years of legal battle some further architectural development of the Temple took place.

Then in the early morning of april 10 2017, the day before the foreman had to evacuate the site by court order, a large fire arose in the Temple, that damaged an interior area of some 200 m². It turned out that this fire was lit by the foreman, who was found dead in the temple complex.

Plans for the future

scale model of the complex as in a plan for the future
(as published in newspaper Kazancat,ru)

Ilgiz Khanov now took on the task of defining the future of the complex. First of all he arranged the repairing of the damage caused by the fire. Meanwhile some essential repairs have been carried out, but -as visitors reported- end 2017 the effects of the fire were still visible.

Khanov's plans for the future include a name change: the complex would henceforth be referred to as the Center of Tolerance. And then he aims to establish an art academy especially for children and also a renewed Taiwan Pagoda, which in his view might attract a lot of Russian visitors interested in East Asian architecture.

Behind the Pagoda a multi functional hall with a glass roof could be built in which all kind of cultural events could be organized. A specific feature of the future complex would be a building with three turrets, each with a symbol on top, an orthodox cross, an Islamic half moon and a symbol of the sun.

However, such plans would require substantial investments and although Khanov was convinced that the complex could attract many entrance-paying visitors, the approached authorities appeared reluctant to participate in investments, so it remains to be seen if these plans can be realized.

Currently the site can be visited, but just some six interior rooms are open to the public.

* Article (may 2015) by Eduard Zinatullin in regional website Kazancat.ru about the earliest history of the complex
* Article (july 2017) by Yulia Shamsutdinova in regional website Kazancat,ru about plans for the future 

The internet has a variety of videos of the site. The following two give a good general impression: 
* Video by Lyudmila Koledova (You Tube, 5'44 , september 2016)

* Video by CGASL showing the complex from the air (You Tube, 6'38". august 2015)

Ildar Khanov
Temple of all religions
Staroye Arakchino, Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan, Russia
can be visited, but just a limited number of interior rooms is open for visitors

February 04, 2018

Gilles Rantière, Village miniature/Miniature village

a town hall

This miniature village is located outside St Michel-Mont-Mercure, a community of some 1700 inhabitants in the Vendée area in France. Its name refers to a 288 m high hill on the spot, the highest of the region.

Life and work

The mini village, a project begun 2006 and still under construction, is a creation of Gilles Rantière, born in 1948 and a mason probably during all of his life.

a school

The mini village, still modest in size, currently includes a town hall, a school. a church, a mill, a wash-house (a lavoir in french), a barn and a little bridge. To construct these small structures Rantière would mainly use granite stones from nearby Haute Bocage, a hilly area with deep valleys interspersed with rocky ground and granite hills.

the church with the priest in front

The small constructions are finished in detail. For example, the inside of the church pictured above is equipped with benches and a priest at the altar. The school (second picture from above) has tables and a teachers desk.

And in the town hall (first picture from above) the mayor is present, as well as a bride and a groom, both dressed festively for their wedding day.

Rantière would place these characters before installing the roofs of the buildings.

the stable

Those who are familiar with the field of French art environments might think that the characters in the above photos in some way feel familiar. 

And right they are. These small scale sculptures have been created by Vivi Fortin, who is already in this weblog.

a miller in front of a flour mill

Above picture shows this clearly. The miller carrying a bag of flour (= former french president Nicolas Sarkozy) is typically in Fortin's style. 

Rantiére and Fortin live close together in neighboring villages. Their continuous collaboration not only adds an extra charm to this art environment, but is also quite unique in the field of art environments, which in general mostly knows isolated working self-taught artists.

 Rantière in front of the flour mill (february 2018)

Incidentally, the flour mill is also a recent creation, completed early 2018.

* Entry with pictures in Vivi Fortin's weblog Sculpture du pas
* Article (june 2014) in regional newspaper Ouest-France

Gilles Rantière
Village miniature
Lieu dit la Girauderie
St Michel-Mont-Mercure, Vendée, Pays de la Loire, France
visitors welcome in summer months

February 01, 2018

Gerard Claeys, Fresques sur les murs extérieurs/frescoes on the outer walls

pictures courtesy of Sophie Lepetit
this picture shows the side of the the house along the road

The two frescoes on the street side of the house (by car you would pass them in a flash) just form a small part of the total number of frescoes included in this art environment located in the neighbourhood Launoy in the community of Blennes, France. 

view of the front an side wall of the annex left of the entrance gate

Life and works

These frescoes were created by Gérard Claeys (1927-2015), who had a career with the French army. He was involved in the war of France in French Indochina (1946-1954) and he later served in French Guiana, currently still an outermost region of France.

Retired from the army in 1972 he settled in Blennes, where he first remodeled the house he had acquired, after which in the 1980's he started decorating it.

the inner side wall of the annex

The short sides of the house and the annex face the street, the inner long sides surround an elongated courtyard, while the long outside of the annex flanks a side street. 

All together a large area of walls, which Claeys gradually completely covered with mosaic frescoes.

this picture and the next two show scenes on the outer side wall 
of the annex, along the side street impasse du Puy

As can be seen on the pictures, the wall decorations are constructed from rectangular plates. 

Claeys designed his decorations on paper, after which in his workshop he transferred the sketch to the plates. Then he applied the scene with mosaic on the plates, after which he fixed the plates to the appropriate wall.

In his mosaic creations he applied a variety of materials, such as fragments of glass, tiling, earthenware, marble, sandstone, flint, mirror glass and seashells.

The scenes Claeys portrayed in general are rather realistic, such as people in all kinds of situations, possibly farmers and peasant women, but also helmeted figures who could represent warriors or knights.

the outer side wall of the annex, detail

The next images give an impression of the decorations that are applied to the walls along the inner court between the house and the annex.

To date, the work of Claeys knows no mention in the usual French publications about art environments and there are no interpretative discussions of his creations available on the internet.

To my knowledge Sophie Lepetit is the one who recently on her weblog for the first time brought this art environment to the attention of the general public.

Apart from decorating the walls of the property, Claeys has also bee active in making stand alone artworks. He made a variety of drawings, paintings, mosaics, low reliefs and wooden sculptures.

After Claeys died in 2015, his artistic legacy is cared for by his widow Claudine Claeys


Gérard Claeys
Exterior decorated with frescoes
Blennes, region Île-de-France, France
can be see from the street

January 25, 2018

Alexander Dvoretsky, сбор объектов в память о СССР/collection of objects in memory of the USSR

Above picture shows a site, kind of a museum, which could be visited around 2009 in the Russian city of Izhevsk. Meanwhile this café-museum has disappeared. The museum's collection as such still exists, but is ambulatory and the owner is looking for a permanent place.

Life and works

The collection is the life's work of Alexander Dvoretsky, who was born in 1956 in Krasnoyarsk, a large city in Siberia. After his primary education he went to work in a factory that produced worsted yarn. About his other employments nothing is known, as it is also unknown when he went to live in Izhevsk.

Anyhow, in the 1980's something happened that would give an important turn to Dvoretsky's further life. In one way or another he became in possession of an old debt letter, dating from the early years of the Soviet Union, which triggered him in such a way that he began collecting objects that carried the memory of the years of the USSR.

His collection grew and grew, up to currently some 30.000 items. many of small size, but also several of a rather large size, especially a collection of Russian cars from earlier years

Although Dvoretsky was often approached to sell some items, in particular certain cars, he refused to do so, because he wanted to keep the collection together. His dearest wish was to exhibit it in a fixed location.

In may 2009 Dvorestky could realise his dream. Together with his son he began a café, located in a small park in the city and open during the summer months. In the green area around the café he installed his collection. 

The pictures above give some idea of the smaller items in the collection such as clocks, accordions, tape-recorders, decorative items, tv sets, radios, a variety of insignia and pins, football pennants, busts of Lenin, old money, bottles, samovars, plates, cassettes, bags, chairs, suitcases and of course these old cars and motorcycles from earlier years.

Unfortunately, the café-museum soon came to an end. After the first rental period the contract was not renewed and Dvoretsky had to start looking for another location.

However, a new permanent location didn't come available and Dvoretsky and his collection had to move from one place to another. The picture above and the two below were made in 2014, when the site was located on a spot near a cooperative garage along the Volkinskoye Highway in Izhevsk.

The images of the car make it clear that Dvoretsky has a way of presentation which is not focused upon presenting the specific character of each individual item. He rather presents a total image in which the various objects form part of a larger colorful whole, are provided with decorative inscriptions or serve as support for other elements in the presentation.

Below are some more pictures of the decorated car above. They were taken in 2012 during open air festivities on the occasion of the day of the city of Izhevsk.


the installation seen from the side

The pictures show that the red car is part of an installation which apart from other items also includes another car and a motorcycle standing on a roof that in turn is backed up by ten uprights. A car showroom wouldn't present the models in such a way. 

Dvoretsky creative way of dealing with the objects he has collected, combining these in a non-obvious way, adding text signs, transforming some items into an installation, implies that the entire display of the objects can be seen as an art environment.

The search for a permanent place continues

Dvoretsky continues his efforts to get a permanent place for his collection, although the local authorities show little inclination to cooperate. In 2016 he wrote a letter to Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, to get his cooperation.

To my knowledge currently Dvoretsky's collection is housed on a small parcel near a forest at the outside of Izhevsk.

It was reported  that Zoya Lebedeva, a well known artist in Russia, is interested in Dvoretsky and his collection. In consultation with her a plan would be considered to situate the collection on a rented plot in the community of Buranovo, some 30 km away from Izhevsk (Buranovo is the hometown of the Buranovskiye Babushki, a folk group that represented Russia in the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest). 

Other reports (end 2016) say that Dvoretsky is disappointed about the lack of cooperation of the local authorities and considers to sell the collection. To my knowledge in 2017 and 2018 the internet had no reports about further developments.

* Article (january 2010) on Live Internet by Izhevchanka about the Cafe-Museum
* Article (june 2016) in local newspaper Susanin,news with a large series of pictures (This article reports about Dvoretsky's letter to president Putin)
* Article (november 2016) on the website Day.org saying that Dvoretsky, disappointed about the lack of cooperation, is considering to sell his collection
* Video of the Café-Museum by Tatiana Vasilievna (7'15", You Tube, sept 2009)

* Video by UDMTV (1'63", You Tube, January 2016)

* Video by UDMTV (1''56". You Tube, april 2016)

Alexander Dvoretsky
Collection of objects that memorize the USSR 
Izhevsk, Udmurt Republic, Russia
visitors welcome

December 29, 2017

Jean Bertholle, Girouettes/Weather-vanes

picture by La Fabuloserie

The picture above shows an island on the grounds of the outsider art museum La Fabuloserie, in Dicy, France, with an arrangement of in particular a number of girouettes ("wind vanes" or also "whirligigs").

These creations were made by Jean Bertholle,  an outsider artist I quite some time wanted to add to this weblog, but about whom so little information was available, that I preferred to wait for more. Now also Bruno Montpied's Le gazouillis des éléphants, the recently published very comprehensive survey of French art environments, confirms that the information is limited indeed, it's time to publish anyway what is known about this self-taught artist.

Life and works

Jean Bertholle (1910-2002) had a job in Châtillon-sur-Seine (in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region, France), where he worked in a factory that produced shoe heels. Retired in 1974, he began making girouettes and other creations which he displayed in the garden of his house ¹.

Bertholle lived in Chamesson (a community some 10 kms south of Châtillon-sur-Seine in the same region), where he was known as "Toto" and as a sabotier (someone who makes clogs). Some distant family members (cousins) still live in the community. In general, the inhabitants are not aware that Bertholle's art environment ever existed ².

At a given time, in the 1980's or 1990's, Bertholle's creations will have been transferred to la Fabuloserie. This private museum about outsider art in Dicy, located in the same region as Chamesson, was opened in 1983.

The open air part of the museum includes various creations from French art environments that for some reason ceased to exist and were saved by Alain de Bourbonnais, the founder of the museum (More about la Fabuloserie in the page in this weblog about Museums and Collections)

* Bruno Montpied, Le Gazouillis des Éléphants, Paris (Eds du Sandre), 2017., p 133-134 
* Video, published by La Fabuloserie on Facebook, august 6, 2016

¹ this info from the book by Bruno Montpied's who notes that the info is based on the publication  "Des jardins imaginaires au jardin habité:des createurs au fil des saisons. Hommage à Caroline Bourbonnais", La Fabuloserie, Dicy, 2015
² personal communication by Fabien Ansault (Galerie, museum of curiosities and café des Z'uns Possible in Chamesson)

Jean Bertholle
originally displayed in the garden of his house in 
Chamesson, Cote d'Or, region Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, France
currently displayed in 
La Fabuloserie, Dicy, same region, France

December 26, 2017

Alexander Nemov, Замок в лесу/Castle in the forest

this picture and the next two: screenprints from the 
video by Yakov Shtopor (see documentation)

The pictures show a single handedly built wooden castle situated in a wooded area between  Yekaterinburg and Verkhnyaya Pyshmain in Russia, a singular architecture that was extant for about the first ten years of the 21st century. 

Life and works ¹

This castle was created by Alexander Nemov, a retired forensic expert at Yekaterinburg's police force.  In the early 1990's he acquired a plot of land in Yekaterinburg where he built a house with a curious architecture that did not comply with the official regulations. Rather than spending money to adapt the house, he sold it, and -meanwhile retired- made a trip around Europe from the money.

Once back, he decided to build a shelter in the forest and continue his life in the forest, in particular to test his own strength and distance himself from civilization. That happened about the year 2000.

Nemov did indeed succeed in continuing life in this way.  

On a forest plot he did not own, using stones, clay and wood available around, he constructed a house with three floors, towers and turrets, transitional galleries and bridges. It had terraces and various interior rooms, such as a bedroom, a sauna, a workshop and a library.

The house could be heated with a wood stove. There was obviously no electricity, but Nemov had rechargeable batteries working on solar cells, so he even had access to the internet.

Nemov stressed that his building was a castle and not a fortress. He had improvised kind of a cannon that could fire fireworks and ward off strangers, but above all had a decorative function.

The newspaper articles published in the autumn of 2009, report that around that time the owner of the plot of forest had claimed his property and that Nemov had indicated he would leave. He said that he would find a new home, this time a cave in an area further away from the urban civilization.

It is not known if this new adventure indeed took place and resulted in a new home for Nemov, nor is any information available about what happened to Nemov's singular architecture.

* Article (october 2009) on news website e1.ru
* Article by olgavch (october 2009) on livejournal
* Video by Yakov Shtopor (2'47", You Tube, uploaded april 2012)

¹ This post is based upon a number of articles in Russian media published in the fall of 2009, which however all rely on one source.

Alexander Nemov
Castle in the forest
in a wooded area between 
Yekaterinburg and Verkhnyaya Pyshmain
Sverdlovsk region, Russia
actual situation unknown, probably not extant anymore

December 20, 2017

Bruno Dehondt, Les gigottos automates/Automated gigottos

Automates.....in France this term does not just refer to machines and instruments, but also to creations depicting people that are capable of making all kinds of movements. 

We encounter such creations also in the field of art environments. For example Marcel Landreau's site had a scene of people dancing at a wedding party, Pierre Avezard's Manège has a variety of animated characters and Fernand Chapet's Parc des attractions is an outdoor collection of moving creations.

This post introduces Bruno Dehondt's world of automates.

photo by Musée des gigottes automates

Life and work

The internet hasn't much biographical information about this artist.

Dehondt was born in 1962 or 1963, so currently (2017) he is in his mid-fifties. In interviews he has said that already at age fourteen he was trying to create impersonations of people. There is a single reference to an artistic education, but as a young man he did not succeed in settling as an artist and he had to work in some job.

However, as an artist in heart and soul Dehondt kept trying to realize his passion of making automates. Around 2000 he could fully devote himself to this activity. Initially he drove around in the region with a van loaded with automates to give performances on markets and other public places.

In 2006 he opened a museum/studio in Steenvoorde, where he stayed until the rental contract ended, after which he moved to Esquelbecq where, from December 2013, he has his current studio and museum.

the front side of the museum in Esquelbecq
picture from weblog Histoires du Nord 3

Both Steenvoorde and Esquelbecq are situated in the north of France in an area adjacent to Belgium that runs to the east and south of the city of Dunkirk and is known as French Flanders.  

In Esquelbecq (Eikelsbeek in Flemish) Dehondt found a place for his studio and museum in a building complex called La Minoterie, formerly a factory where grain was processed into flour.

Located in the center of the town near the market place it is an ideal location to attract visitors. And indeed, currently about four to six thousand visitors a year come to see the gigottes automates.

These visitors will see a variety of lifesize creations depicting all kind of characters one can meet in daily life. They can make movements and are programmed to interact with people around.

So one will see a group of musicians as in the upper pictures in this post, but also a shoe polisher, someone who is snoring, a cleaning lady, someone who drinks from a glass, an elderly lady knitting,  a group of majorettes and so on......

Dehondt is constantly supplementing the collection.

In creating his automates Dehondt uses a variety of discarded materials, such as household appliances, vacuum cleaners, computers or parts of washing machines. It happens that people bring him materials they no longer need.

He himself also arranges the electronic mechanisms which generate the movements of the characters. Body parts such as faces and hands are made from resin and pulp, plaster or clay. The characters are dressed with hand-made appropriate garments, designed by the artist.

the knitting lady and the shoe polisher

Although Dehondt may have enjoyed artistic training, his way of creating and portraying his characters has the connotation of a non-mainstream artist creating popular art, which is reinforced by the great passion he shows.  As a visitor of his museum wrote: "Bruno Dehondt is the boy who always stared through the window, dreaming in the classroom and after a few decades finally woke up in a world he created himself".

Dehondt participates in exhibitions and also in various street performances. including the parades of Géants (giants) customary in the north of France, spectacles in which meters high dolls are led through the streets. He has created géants for parades in various communities in the region.

He also organizes workshops for young people where they are guided to create automates.

* The various websites of tourist offices in northern France refer to the Museum Les gigottos automates, for example the tourist office in Esquelbecq
* Bruno Dehondt's own website and his page on Facebook
* Article (2013) in regional newspaper Voix du Nord about the removal from Steenvoorde to Esquelbecq

You Tube has a variety of videos.
Here is a selection:
* A video by MrStudio 231 (8'52", You Tube, publ. feb 2017)

* A video by Taïna Cluzeau, about the new location in Esquelbecq (2'29", You Tube, publ. jan 2014)

* A video by Pierre André Leclercq, with the musicians and the juggler in action (0'56", You Tube, march 2014)

Bruno Dehondt
Les gigottos automates
Rue de Bergues 3 bis
59470 Esquelbecq
visitors welcome, small entrance fee,
for opening hours see website tourist office