Vigeland's Oslo

Trip Start May 31, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Our second day in Oslo wasn't as fortunate as the first, weather-wise. We had already prepared for this though, as had our hostel room mate, Peggy. She had been in Stockholm before coming to Oslo and the rain over there had apparently been as common as Ikea. We all wanted to see the Vigeland Sculpture Park so we decided to go together, under the cold and rain. We had heard from different sources that the park was bizarre, mysterious, sexy, amusing, so we couldn't resist the temptation. Little did we know that we were to be transported to one man's immaculate dreamland.

The Art Deco main gate was impressive with its granite and wrought iron columns holding up gigantic square lamps. The elegant straight lines, the repetitive symmetry and the whispers of industrialization were strong stylistic elements of the 1920's when this gate was erected. Beyond the gate, the faint but annoying drizzle created a milky curtain over the park making it a haunting and peculiar. We could make out the ghostly images of the far away sculptures lining a bridge, like terrible guardians in their contorted and exaggerated positions.

When we got closer we could admire the dark bronze figures of nude men and women embracing, dancing, posing, and conversing with each other. In their physical prime, the bridge sculptures almost seemed a celebration to life, youth and beauty, and the crossing of the bridge like a material timeline of our own beauty and youth. Statues of babies were also incorporated in some of the 58 sculptures along this bridge, particularly the famous Sinnataggen or the "angry baby boy", whose little tantrum-clenched fist had been rubbed bright yellow by the millions of visitors throughout the decades.

The bridge was flanked on each opening by the marble images of draped men fighting, embracing or sleeping with what seemed like a huge reptile. We later learned that this represented the struggle of mankind and his animal nature. After crossing the bridge, the statues changed from adults in their youthful conditions to children and babies at play, some crying and driving their parents crazy. Such was the case of the sculpture of a man shaking off an army of screaming babies from his body, as if they were alien creatures attacking him.

Soon we reached the great fountain we had discerned from far away. In the center of the circular basin, six giants hold up a huge vessel aloft and from it a curtain of white water spills down around them and into the basin. Much like Atlas holds up the weight of the world on his shoulders, these six men seem burdened with this weight; their muscles contracted and tensed, much like we are sometimes burdened with our adult preoccupations in life. Water, a symbol of fertility, rushed down towards their feet and spread out along the edges of the basin, where bronze statues of trees and forests stood tall.

These clusters of trees were like awnings from which within were human figures, in all stages of life, from birth to death, merging together in a beautiful expression for man's relationship with Nature. The granite basin was decorated with bronze plaques depicting images of humans and their relationships to animals. Some images were amusing while others were a little scary. The light drizzle and the water that flows from the basin makes the fountain seem as if it was lying beneath a silver laced veil.

Past the fountain and up a marble staircase, we were greeted with a purple garden of violets, lilacs, verbenas, pansies, and batches lavenders which all seemed coolly delighted under rain. We were now on the second level of the park, where, separated by intricate wrought iron gates, a huge phallic-like monolith stood made up entirely of the intertwining figures of people twisting and bending. From afar it looked like a big pile of people, but from up close you could see the seemingly inert bodies lying at the bottom of the pile, then the human figures that spiral upwards, halting a bit midway and then rising fast towards the summit, comprised only of small babies.

Surrounding the monolith was a plateau filled with grey granite statues of humans, in their different stages of life, engaging in different human situations and interactions. Children playing, young teenagers exploring love, parenthood, old age, and camaraderie. We delved into each and every sculpture, amazed at the veracity of the facial expressions of joy, sorrow, anger, happiness, particularly in the old age series. We circled the plateau and the cycles of life ending in the same place we started. Perhaps Vigeland was trying to tell us that for every death a new life begins, and vice versa, and much like nature renews itself after death, so do we as humans. All of human life is displayed here.

It had been an interesting journey into the mind of Gustav Vigeland, but we wanted to see more, understand more of his vision. So we walked across the park to the Gustav Vigeland Sculpture Museum. Not only did we get to see his other works, but the plaster casts of the park's sculptures. We walked through the life-size figures of the fountain and forests through the red and blue museum halls, which all seemed to defeat space and time.

About being an artist, Vigeland had said: "I was a sculptor before I was born. I was driven and lashed onward by powerful forces outside myself. There was no other path, and no matter how hard I might have tried to find one, I would've been forced back again". This determination and strength fits perfectly with the ambition and energy we had seen in the park. Each sculpture represented every person that walked in that park: a child, a woman, a father, or a grandmother.

We walked out of the museum with a better understanding of Vigeland's artistry, but were sick of the cold and rain, so we headed to another nearby museum that had a cozy little coffee shop. Through the bad cappuccino's I thought about Vigeland as the art patron of Oslo, in much the same way as Gaudí was to Barcelona. But apart from Vigeland's work I had caught glimpse of an underlying and very quiet art around Olso; in her streets and buildings, in her houses and even in its people. There seemed to be a strong creativity below the surface, almost as if it were numbed by the cold.....

.....or maybe it was just me babbling on. Either way, Ed and I had adored Oslo. It just seemed like the sort of place we would be happy in, snow and all.

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