After a long trip to the cold(er) North-East(ern) territories, I’ve taken this week to dry out in the South(west). Europe for America is not an equal exchange for many, but with a cough rattling around in my chest and phlegm coating my airways, at this point I’ll take it. Besides, there’s JACK-FM, where “we play what we want” and, therefore, the morning drive from my here to my kid’s there is punctuated by “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, “Desire” by U2, “Hold Your Head Up” by Argent, “Crying” by Aerosmith, and “Don’t Take Me Alive” by Steely Dan.
Yeah, with JACK pulsing from the speakers, I could stay busy for minutes on end, slamming the steering wheel and wailing in the direction of my dash. Not a care in the world. Life in paradise.
Although I’m here now, I’m reminded of the place from whence I’ve come. The last stop on this peripatetique‘s mystical mastery tour.
That stop was not the home town In which I now sit recuperating; rather it was Oslo, on my final day. Then, it was in a public garden—an amazing park featuring over 200 statues, friezes, molds, gates, grates, and figures designed by the twentieth century Norwegian sculptor, Gustav Vigeland.
Vigeland’s park is astonishing. Laid out in a line that runs for at least a kilometer. It begins with a welcoming span of green (or else snow, depending on the season), to a bridge, past a fountain, up stairs to a monolith whose space is encased within ornate wrought iron gates, beyond which is an elevated monument called the “wheel of life”. At each stage, figures of bronze, stone, and metal—many of them lifesize and in Vigeland’s destinctive style—do the dance of life; their actions and the situations they represent depict the human pantheon: love, hate, desire, lust, rage, need, nurturing, competition, fear, jealousy, spite, fatigue, boredom, superstition, death, faith, rebirth. On and on. Tantalizingly so. In endless combination.
What it all means is left to the interpretation of those meandering through the park, piecing the images together in their own individual pastiche.
For me, who shot hundreds of pictures and can only share a few here, the works can be classified by park location, by materials used, or by theme.
While the monolith is a fulcrum for visitor attention . . .
. . . it is the wrought iron gates that most captivate.
At the base of the monolith a set of life-size stone carvings are positioned—to stand as sentry or modifier, it is not completely clear. What
clear is that the figures are irresistible—possibly moreso than anything “real life” has to offer. As simulations—as “hyperreal” “texts”—they draw visitors into their orbit; into their micro-dramas, gripping us in ways that won’t let go; encumbering us in ways that won’t allow easy extrication.
Unfixing fixidity by weaving us into the force-field of their “static” dynamic.
The park has more than the monolith and its protective gates to offer. With hundreds of figures, depicting scores of scenes, there is more to contemplate than a few minutes or a handful of paragraphs can adequately cover.
And perhaps, energy (and intellect) providing, in the days to come I will offer up some random images that I found most striking, arresting, compelling, worthy of commentary.
For now, what I can say is that like many things in life, what these pieces mean really depends on the perspicacity of those who view them; what intellectual, emotional, and life-tools they bring to the experience. Vigeland’s figures are art, after all; vehicles of communication. As with all art worth more than a Warhol fifteen, their communicability lies in that wondrous collision of recognition and mystification; the collusion of personal knowledge and someone else’s spot-on awareness; the compromise between everyday certitude and other-world possibility.
It is these complex combinations that recommends Vigeland’s park; that demands that visitors continue to enter, experience, explore.
Beyond the meanings, aside from the art, is the artist and his vision. Vigeland’s park is not only a collective statement about the human condition; it is also a commentary on a person. Viewing the products of that man one can easily understand what he meant when he wrote:
“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 have been forced back again.”
I marvel at people with such singularity of purpose. I wish I could be like them; I aspire to be like them. In fact, though, such a goal is not easily attainable. Not without commitment and sacrifice. A thick skin, a willingness to disappoint others, a certainty that transcends common-sense and customary caution.
In fact, tallying up all the requisites, one can appreciate that such people are exceedingly rare.
And, regrettable, dream though I might, it is unlikely that you are currently consuming the annals of such a one.
Nonetheless, it is the cold, hard social fact that without them—without creators such as Vigeland—the quality of human existence would surely become impoverished. What would become of our world—nay, of us—without artists and their visions?