Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo, Norway
By Alistair Barbour
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Oslo in Norway. Whilst there we did the usual sight seeing. Travelled the Fiord, visited the Viking ship museum and the usual sightseeing amble through this beautiful c ity.
We had heard that the ‘Vigeland Sculpture Park’ was well worth a visit. We were heading up to the royal palace anyway and as the park in question was near there we thought we would take a look.
The park’s entrance is situated in quite an affluent area of the city. Wide avenues lined with large detached private homes. On one of these avenues stands the parks large gated entrance, opening up to an expansive park with a wide concourse running from the gate and finishing at the large central monolithic structure in the distance.
As you enter the park the first statue you encounter is that of the designer ‘Gustav Vigeland’. The park itself has been around since the 18th century but the design and layout ‘by Vigeland’ was the first half of the twentieth century.
You next come to a bridge that crosses over two duck ponds. The walls on either side of this bridge are decorated with sculptures of people depicting humanity in its many forms. All the sculptures in the park are of the human form stripped and bare. No famous historical figures, no religious symbolism. Just humanity! Showing us as human beings in our different stages of life and exposing [through our nakedness] the vulnerability that we all feel and the range of emotions that makes us who we are.
Apparently the most famous statue in the park which stands on these walls is ‘Angry boy’. Anyone who is a parent will recognise all to well what this statue is conveying. A young boy stamping his feet throwing his arms in the air and screaming with all his might. You will not have to search too hard for this one. The hoards of photographers eagerly snapping away is a sure give away of its position.
You slowly walk along studying each statue putting your own interpretation on what some of them may mean. Some obvious such as the angry boy. Some not so obvious such as the man who appears to be violently shaking four babies of him.
Once pulled into these figures your mind can really start to try and read what they are trying to say to the viewer.
Walking on you come to the fountain. This time the statues appearing to be wrapped in with and interacting in ‘The tree of life’.
The walls of the fountain decorated with episodes from life and death. Macabre images depicting mortality. These kinds of images which are so common in religious buildings and art. But unlike religious iconography they are not trying to scare you into giving your life to a make believe god. They are telling you the cold hard facts of existence. You are born you live you die. This is life. It is finite it will end!
When you have absorbed all this fountain has to say you then come onto to what I think is some of the most moving and beautiful works of art I have ever seen.
The path in front of you splits in two, each path leading you around the rose garden up some steps and through ornate iron gates. The gates, following the theme of the park and in its intr icate lattice work depicting yet more images of humanity. Naked, vulnerable and exposed.
Now, in front of you is the huge monolith. The closer you get the more intricate and amazing the images carved within become. It’s a sea of writhing naked bodies. Men women children. All ages lying beside and wrapped around each other. All climbing and heading towards the top of the column as if searching for meaning in life or perhaps human desire to grow and develop. The detail is incredible. Every time you move your gaze over it something else comes into view. You get absorbed into the intricacy and meaning of this beautiful column.
All around the column are granite figures. Beautiful and stunning depictions of human life.
Mothers and fathers cradling new born babies. Men and women embracing each other as lovers. Old ladies cradling grown up sons and daughters showing that no matter how old you are you are still someone’s child. This being even more poignant after so many children have had there lives cut short on an island just outside the city by an evil religious fundamentalist.
Another statue shows a group of young early teen’s girls with arms round each others waist’s serene smiles staring out into the distance together. As if looking to see what life will hold in store for them? Beside this one a comical image of a group of young boys knocking the living daylights out of each other. Symbolising the very real difference between the feminine and the masculine.
For me though the most beautiful statues where the ones that I could associate with. I have two sons. The statues of fathers proudly and loving holding there children as babies toddlers young and middle aged men was just to much and you find yourself choking back the emotion and turning your head momentarily whilst gaining your composure so as not to end up on someone’s photograph with tears streaming down your cheeks. Likewise the statues depicting the old with there wrinkled face and sagging skin are just so moving you again gulp down the emotion bubbling up inside.
Watching the crowds milling around you can see other people experiencing the very same emotions. Red eyes or flushed cheeks. My wife in particular was experiencing the very same. I knew very well not to speak to her as I knew she was struggling to hold back the emotion.
Looking around you could tell that some people only seeing the nakedness and genitals on display and giggling and laughing. That’s fine though because I bet each and every person there would find at least on statue which pulls at the heart strings. One they will remember forever.
If you’re ever in Oslo please make sure you go this park. You will not regret it. No religious symbolism. No famous people. No answers to life. Just human beings, just the message ‘embrace the journey’.