Walking with Rachel Jury on 9 May 2010

 

Vigeland Sculpture Park

I am walking with my partner, Rach. Rach has given it a lot of thought. Rather than walking a route that we’ve walked together before, that might hold some significance, or walking our almost weekly Sunday walk around the Botanic Garden and into Kelvingrove Park, Rach has decided that we should walk somewhere that’s new to both of us, a path that signifies the future. We celebrated our 15th Anniversary on May 5th. And Rach has decided that we should walk around the Vigeland sculpture park – in Oslo. This walk combines a number of our loves: being with each other, walking, parks, sculptures and weekends in European cities (usually birthday treats but 15 years deserves celebrating). Although it’s a new walk, it also cannily draws on our shared history; history and future, side by side.

The massive, beautiful wrought iron gates (art noveau?) mark our arrival at the park’s entrance. Apparently it is the most visited attraction in the city, and it’s certainly bustling on this almost-spring day, the sun burning through clouds intermittently. Before setting off, we prepare ourselves with a latte and mocha and shared muffin, sitting at an outside table in the park’s café. Rach is a bit taken aback by just how many people are flowing through the gates, and has a momentary wobble about her choice, wondering whether she should swap it. (In truth, we’ve already spent many glorious hours wandering Oslo’s glorious streets, exploring its galleries and ascending the daring architectural ‘walls’ of the new Opera – once in the morning and once late at night. Tomorrow will see us heading into the forests near Holmenkollen, where we will encounter deep snow hidden from the sun’s rays. The whole weekend is practically dedicated to walking, all of it memorable. Testimony to this fact is that, as our own shoes have begun to hurt us, today we decided to swap pairs. A symbol too, I’m sure.) I rather like the bustle of the park and the fact that these outdoor artworks are the city’s biggest draw. In the end, Rach reminds herself that the point of the walk is that it’s unknown, and it’s how we respond to it together, to whatever it throws at us or however it turns out, that’s important (it being a symbol of our future).  She needn’t have worried, of course, because it turns out to be a brilliant walk.

The 80 acre Vigeland Sculpture Park is home to 212 sculptures, all by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland (who died in 1943). Even more remarkable, every sculpture is of the naked human body (arranged singularly, in pairs, or in groups). The majority figure human relationships (lovers, mothers and children, fathers and children, elderly figures alongside younger ones, groups of young people, groups of older people). A few depict subjects on their own. The figures are all solid, enduring (built like me, Rach proposes, the women with sturdy legs and broad shoulders). The first set line the bridge (58 of them in total). Real people stand beside their counterparts, relations beside relations, resonating against each other. Walking towards the sculpture of a woman holding a small child at arms length is a man with a small boy atop his shoulders. Rach and I deliberately pose in front of the sculpture of two women, proudly claiming our dopplegangers. The figure of a bawling, hot-headed baby is counter-pointed by the live shrieks of excited kids. Rach’s favourite work is the one with a man besieged by a pack of toddlers, who hold on to him like little devils despite his best efforts to shake them loose. It’s clear where the power lies. It’s no surprise this is Rach’s favourite either, since it flies in the face of the usual depictions of children (as cute, adorable, etc.)

The bridge leads to the fountain, a huge bowl of brimming water upheld by swarthy men, the water seemingly irrigating a forest scene around the edges, more carefree people frolicking in the trees’ foliage and canopy (these sculptures all green rather than grey). From the fountain (of life?), we head up a grand staircase and through more iron gates, these ones depicting people, some women only, others men only. The steps lead to a huge, phallic monolith, itself made of more than a hundred figures, entwined, piled up, snaking to the top. It feels a rather macabre tower. I’m unsure whether it’s progress or repression; limbs entwined in love or battle. The works arranged around the tower do not make it any clearer, numerous tableaux depicting more scenes of human relationships, not many of them joyous but some tender (a daughter holding the head of a much older woman, her mother perhaps, their roles reversed as their lives progress?) My favourite of the park is here: two women, of similar ages, sitting close, comfortable, protective, voluptuous.

The top of the plateau affords something of a bird’s eye view of the park below, and only at this height can we see how beautifully it’s been laid out, with the wide, symmetrical avenues that lead us to this point reflected in the wide, tree lined avenues that cut the vast park up into different routes.

Following one of the paths through the park, we arrive at what seems to be a specially designated doggy park – a place in the park where dogs can be let off their leads to play with each other and run free. Rach wonders why they don’t run beyond the apparently unmarked boundary – there’s no fence to keep them in; it’s not really an enclosure. We make our way back round to the bridge to visit the final arrangement, a gaggle of babies, each atop its own plinth, in baby pose, variously grinning or girning.

From here, strolling around the edge of the lake, we fortuitously stumble across a pub which serves a welcome burger (for Rach), a mixed platter of savoury treats (for me), and a refreshing pint each – much needed sustenance after a couple of hours of tramping. Filled up once more, we’re back on the park’s paths, promenading its huge, majestic avenues. Rach knows I like the particular comfort that parks provide – routes to walk and explore without the anxiety of getting lost. The paths are line features, providing certain bearings even in ufamiliar environments. We are guided into our future.

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2 Responses to “Walking with Rachel Jury on 9 May 2010”

  1. linden Says:

    Your first paragraph of your walk with Rach gave me proper tears in my eyes….
    I am sitting here on a sunny Saturday morning, reading your posts and thoroughly enjoying them…they are well written and inspirational, and I’ve only got to the first 3. Currently planning our walk with you…I’m trying to find out how long it is but I may have to walk down to the start of it to see the info board as I cant find it online…anyway will let you know in the next day or so. Looking forward to it.
    see you soon..
    Linden

  2. Dee Says:

    Thanks Linden. Glad you are enjoying them. I’m enjoying the walking immensely. Looking forward to ours too.
    Dee

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