Khodovarikha

koko

Khodovarikha – in Russian: Ходовариха – is a weather station located on the coast of the freezing Barents Sea. It consists of a landspit projecting eastwards (Latitude: 68° 57′ Longitude: 53° 45′).

map

This is as remote a place as one could imagine. The population of Khodovarikha consists of one man, whose name is Slava …

slava pic

Besides Slava – his full name is Vyacheslav Korotki – nobody lives permanently in Khodovarikha. No roads lead here. The only visitors are the crew of a research and survey vessel – the Mikhail Somov – that passes by once a year to drop supplies.

MIKHAIL_SOMOV

I first heard about Khodovarikha in 2015, when I read an article in a UK newspaper. Accompanying this was a stunning series of pictures. By coincidence, I had just opened Furillen – itself renowned for being remote and, in winter, dark and bleak. But it was clear that Khodovarikha was an altogether more extreme, more brutal and more desolate place. The title of one of these pieces – “The most cut-off man on Earth” – says it all.

slava boat

This seemed to be the perfect subject for a Second Life sim. For a while, all there was to go on for information about Khodovarikha were those articles – beautiful pictures, but no real sense of how the buildings were organized. I imagined a typical Arctic landscape – white and pristine, with this rugged old Russian guy wandering about under a beautiful Aurora sky, measuring weather patterns …

weather station

Then I saw a documentary about Khodovarikha – and Slava – on an English-language Russian media channel, RTD, called “Arctic Limbo” …

So much for the pristine white landscape … Khodovarikha is a barren, arid and neglected place, littered with rusting scrap metal, discarded fuel barrels, broken machinery and countless abandoned or half-finished projects. There is beauty here, for sure, but this is not the picture-postcard Arctic cliche one might imagine. Khodovarikha is a rubbish heap, a kind of hell on earth: bitterly cold all year round, dirty, and unkempt.

In the documentary, Slava has an assistant, Ustin, who was posted to Khodovarikha for a year, accompanied by his wife, Rita. We see a bored Ustin playing video games, arguing with Rita, looking through old papers in the one of the derelict buildings while wishing he was somewhere else.

ustin

He talks about missing his family, and looks ahead excitedly to the visit of the ship and its supplies, wondering whether he will be replaced or left on Khodovarikha for another year. It’s a prospect he seems to find unthinkable, although by the end of the film, as he boards the Somov with Rita, he seems bereft as he looks back to Khodovarikha, and we learn that he subsequently goes back …

ustin 1

Slava himself emerges as a thoroughly enigmatic figure: he is obviously tough and resourceful, but what little we learn about his past – a wife he lost touch with but expects to be reconciled with one day, a son he has never even seen – suggests a man who came to Khodovarikha in order to escape …

bird

He describes his relationship to time in some extraordinary ways. One might expect the days, weeks and months to crawl past in such an empty, isolated place, but Slava has a very different perspective. The clock runs fast here, he says, I am never bored, there is always something to do … those who live in cities are the bored ones, where the same thing happens every day, and where everything is hurried and pointless. We see him fishing and hunting, but mostly watching … gazing at the immensity of the time and space he finds himself in.

slava gazeSlava avoids thinking about the visit of the ship. Because as soon as he does so, time drags. Ustin describes Slava’s reputation in the Russian administration as a ‘lunatic’ and a ‘troll’. We see a relationship between them that is perfunctory and cool. Perhaps this is the only way they can co-exist.

slava and ustin

The documentary is set in the summer months, although Ustin tells us that it is always cold in Khodovarikha. The sand is dirty, littered with old barrels and crates nestled in scattered tufts of dried out grass. This is a lunar landscape of craters and small uneven dunes, whipped into shape by the constant wind …

dunes

We chose to depict Khodovarikha as we imagine it must be in winter – dark and freezing, with the ground covered by snow and packed ice. This is a landscape of contrasts: between white snow and blackened wood; between immense space and suffocation; and above all, between the ugliness of the ground and the infinite beauty of the Arctic sky. The windlight setting for the sim is not fixed but on a cycle – although given that this is an Arctic winter, don’t expect a bright midday sun …

eggs

Khodovarikha was once a village, of sorts, and there are a number of buildings scattered around on the sim. The most striking is the lighthouse, built in 1933 and decommissioned in 1996 – ours is still working, however. This is an octagonal structure, exceptionally tall and angled sharply upwards.

lighthouse

It is made of timber, which Slava is cannibalising for firewood, and sits high up on a raised section of the land. Behind it there is a building, which we have set back and down the hill: an old workshop, surrounded with broken equipment, trash and abandoned tools … and the ever-present Khodovarikha barrels.

garage

Across from the lighthouse is a small cluster of buildings: a communications mast, and the house where Slava lives, which we have decorated as close the photographs as possible …

slava office

radio

matchstick house

There is also a small hut in which he distills some kind of alcoholic potion for warmth and those long, dark winter nights of reflection … and a half-built house, which seems unlikely ever to be finished.

Then there is the weather station, with its row of specialist equipment – a Stevenson Screen, wind monitors, a radiation screen, ranging sensor and so forth.

weather station mess

To one side of this is an observation hut, and to the other side a half-finished Rawin Dome – used to track weather balloons – surrounded by scaffolding. This was inspired by a picture I saw of the South Pole station taken during the winter of 1955-6 …

rawin1

In “Arctic Limbo”, we see Slava travelling by boat to an island where he seems to stay, perhaps when he wants to be away from Ustin and Rita. It’s never made clear where this location is, but it contains this very striking building …

kolteniy

According to the caption for this picture, it is Kotelniy Island, but if this is an alternative spelling for Kotelny Island it isn’t clear how Slava could get to such a place, because it is several thousand miles away from Khodovarikha …

map

While we are not exactly sure where this building is located, we are fairly certain that the dome above it is a Doppler radar, which uses the Doppler effect to produce velocity data about objects at a distance. It’s possible that this would be used to examine the motion of rain, as described here – but whatever this particular one was used for, we are confident that it is no longer in use. Instead, the building – together with the others here – acts as a kind of refuge for Slava – a place to hang out and wash his socks, watch the sky, lay down and drink …