On a sunny afternoon during my recent field research in Oslo, I was walking through Viegeland Park. The park hosts beautiful sculptures depicting various emotions. Passing the magnificent figures, I thought to myself: What a wonderful pretext to talk about feelings. A true teaching moment. You could take a group of preschoolers on a trip to the park and ask: What do you see? And then talk – about grief, love, jealousy, envy, joy and trust. Different moments in the life cycle and singular expressions of feelings.
To my surprise, the people in the park are not art connoisseurs who came to admire the sculptures or tourists who stopped to take a selfie in front of one of the statues. Instead of looking at the sculptures, they are glancing at their smartphones or tablets, connecting with someone in virtual reality. Even those who came to the park with friends or family members don’t talk to each other, but are staring at their phones. I notice a father with two sons, each glued to the phone. A group of blond-haired boys—most likely classmates—also not talking to each other, but frantically texting someone else, somewhere else.
I am wondering: What are they seeing on these phones, with whom are they communicating? I am searching for people who are present in the moment. Not finding any admirers of art, I return to look at the monuments. I am drawn to a statue of a couple in love. What are they kinking about, I wonder. Maybe they think about the future that awaits them? The children they would like to have? Or have they quarreled and made up?
A few moments later, I spot another man with his sons. They are leaning against the statue, each holding a mobile phone. A woman approaches, perhaps the boys’ mother. She stops, deep in thought, to look at the sculpture depicting a couple in love. I try to guess her feeling. Maybe she is reminiscing about the time, before cell phones, when she came here to stroll among the sculptures with her lover.
I continue to muse about the statues. How do Norwegians interpret them? Does their familiarity with artistic expression of feelings improve their ability to speak about feelings, relationships, and the human body? How do Poles living in Oslo understand this garden of sculptures? Some of my fellow compatriots were turned off by the naked bodies of the statues. Why place sculptures of entwined bodies in the city center, a place where you bring your visiting relatives and friends? My Polish interlocutors find Norway odd. They say they don’t understand Norwegian, not only because they don’t understand the language, but also because they are puzzled by decisions such as this: to have a stone garden of naked bodies in the middle of the city!
I continue to observe my surroundings. I see a young couple sitting on the grass, each looking at their iPhone. Are you here together, I wonder? Three young women are grilling; one of them is reading something on her tablet. Perhaps she will pause for a moment and enjoy the meal. Off to the side, I see an older Vietnamese couple deep in conversation. A lady is walking her dog. Instead of a phone, she carries a bag to scoop her dog’s poop.
By Izabela Czerniejewska