Very often when we travel to a new place, we notice the ‘big things’ right away. The city hall, parliament/government buildings, old palaces and residences, landmarks and monuments. These are usually linked to some form of historical importance in order to commemorate a person or event such as independence and are often included in the list of ‘must-see’s’ of a place. But what happens when government regimes change and the ‘old monuments’ need to be replaced? What happens to these former representations of ‘nationhood’? In Budapest, one can visit the (somewhat bizarre) Memento Park, where statues that were erected during communism have been collected to signify and portray the level of ‘tyranny’ that once existed, or to celebrate the ‘fall of communism’.
It’s interesting as it depicts a certain past, an era wherein messages of communal solidarity or forms of collective action were portrayed through many mediums, including through gigantic statues that were scattered throughout the city as reminders of a certain political leaning.
But what about the less important monuments or statues? The ones that do not represent a famous person or signify a major national event. But rather are artistic expressions that may come to reflect a culture or become part of the architecture of a place. Sometimes the use of sculptures as art are much more subtle. Walking through a small mountain village close to Alta Badia in the Dolomites, we came across this (surprising) field of sculptures.
We found them to be beautiful albeit a bit sad; portraying very real emotions of fear, death and loss. The way they were scattered in an open field caught us off guard. We felt curious but also reluctant to explore and appear intrusive. It felt as if they were watching us watch them. We later found some replicas of these sculptures in the city of Bolzano and discovered the local artist’s name: Lois Anvidalfarei.
My recent trip to Oslo confronted me yet again with the role of sculptures. In Frogner Park, many people flock to the permanent installation by Gustav Vigeland that was created between 1920 and 1943 and includes 212 bronze and granite statues. However, what is also interesting is the variety of sculptures and statues from different artists that one finds scattered throughout the city. Sometimes they seemed to be well integrated into the space by an artistic urban planner. Other times they appeared out of nowhere and felt as if they were just pin-dropped on that spot for no particular reason. Looking at these sculptures I reflected on what it would be like to see the world through their eyes.
It’s interesting to reflect on how sculptures are used in different spaces; sometimes as a form of political expression, other times as art and others still as part and parcel of a city’s architecture and personality.