Thinking Sex: Representing Desire and Difference
A Feminist and Gender Studies Course
Bryn Mawr College, Fall, 2002

Archive 1: Unravelling Vigeland's Sculpture

Name:  Anne Dalke
Subject:  Welcome!
Date:  2002-08-27 14:11:41
Message Id:  2461
Welcome to the course forum area for "Thinking Sex"; I'm glad you are here. This is a place for continuing the conversations we'll be initiating in our class sessions: not in "formal" writing, but as a form of "thinking out loud" so others can learn from your thoughts in progress, and you from theirs. This is also a place where people beyond our classroom can find our conversations useful. I'm looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say, learning from all of it, and hope you are too.

Let's start in thinking together by telling one another what we think of the range of images we saw in class today. What did you think of when you saw them? Try making up, or sketching, a story about one or both of them.

Name:  Chelsea Phillips
Subject:  Watercolor/Vigeland Sculpture
Date:  2002-09-04 19:07:36
Message Id:  2499
Hi everybody! Ok, the first thing I'm looking at is the watercolor. The thing that comes immediately to mind for me is a kiss. I see each shade of blue as a figure caught up in the act of an embrace. There is not a lot of, well, not passion, but violent passion. The colors seem not to represent the lustfulness of infatuation, but the simple joy and intamacy that comes from a secure, deeply rooted love between two people. I like the way they meld in the is an acknowledgement both of their individuality and the harmony produced when they are together. The next thing that I see as I look at this watercolor is a double helix separating. It still goes along with the overarching idea of separate identities within a whole, but I can see each color as a new page of life stretching out and bursting with energy waiting to be written into a...something. Of course, there is a flip side as well...maybe it is coming together and not separating, becoming whole rather than growing apart- probably says something about the way my mind works.

The sculpture is...interesting. I know that's a vague term, but it's really the only thing I can think of for it. I see these figures as mother and child, which then makes it more diffucult for me to think of them as sexual. Perhaps the mother is trying to heal the damaged caused to a son by trying to compensate for an inadaquate father and husband. Or perhaps the pain comes from rejection by the father? The fact that the figures are naked places no overt sexual tone on it for me...perhaps because I think of sculpture as being routinely nude. The female figure definately seems older to me, though I can't honestly back that with anything other than my own impressions. In a sexual way, it would remind me of the relationship between Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon (or any similar situation) she aged more quickly and failed to produce a son, I wonder if this could be a typical scene- her conjoling, asking for patience, or begging Henry not to despair and to keep trying. He at first still loving, not yet willing to cast her aside out of loyalty, but frustrated and frightened, like a child. Ok, those are my thoughts- looking forward to reading others!


Name:  Sarah Mendell
Subject:  Unrav/Vigeland Sculp.
Date:  2002-09-04 20:44:03
Message Id:  2500
I tried hard not to, but in all of Burgmayer's work so far, I've seen a woman. The woman featured in "Unraveling" is wild--not necessarily demonic but surely full of some intense emotion she is unable to control. I see very clearly her body which is full of curves and motion, as well as her hair blowing wildly about in the torrent of wind she herself creates. I also see very clearly a plane or desert, some flat piece of land slanted in our eyes only because the one who is capturing this sight has been knocked at an angle from her powerful command of the elements. The watercolor at the bottom of the painting and specifically the bottom right hand corner is blurred and appears larger as do all objects appearing in the camera of an onlooking photo journalist. When I look at this piece I feel very much like a journalist documenting a natural disaster, knocked down and banged around from what seems like a twister (which coincidentally or not looks very much like the woman's body). While the scene does strike me as being wildly out of control, the woman seems to be very much in control of what is going on and simply seems to prefer things in a state of chaos and upheaval.

The first time I looked at the Vigeland Sculpture Garden I became very tense because it strikes me as a depiction of a love not reciprocated. At first I saw the two figures as lovers but upon closer inspection I decided they must be a mother and her son. This made me uncomfortable as I began to think about Oedipal theories whatnot. After steering myself away from these thoughts, I started to look closely at their positioning--at how the woman leans into the man and extends herself towards him and on him--at how he turns from her and seems to ignore her. Take him away and her positioning makes no sense. Take her away and he could be3 sitting underneath a tree musing. There seems to me nothing sexual in this picture perhaps because I associate sex with positive feelings and there seem to be only negative/sad/solitary ones in this. Their expressions seem much too serious and her look too all-around quaint for anything sexual. What I see is more of a conversation where son seems distant yet refuses to talk and mother expresses her wish to be there for him and for him to tell her how he is feeling. So I'm coming away with alot of feeling in this one but very little sexual feeling.

Name:  Monica Locsin
Subject:  Unraveling/Vigeland sculpture
Date:  2002-09-04 23:50:33
Message Id:  2503
As I observe the first image (Intimacy), I see passion-two beings uniting as one in a kiss. The explosion of pastel colors gives the portrait a calm and vibrant effect. Lust and deep affection is embodied in the image which is shown in the colors running wild. I also see the image as a penis entering a vagina which is in a vulnerable state. The blue represents the penis while the green, pink, and purple dabs represent the sacred vagina. The pink and red blots in the vagina symbolize the woman as loosing her virginity and little red spots which symbolize blood are seen on the penis. This is a very emotional and physical portrait in a sense that the passion is uncontrollable and the act of having sex is simple and at the same time joyous.

The second image gives me a stiff feeling. Maybe it is because it reminds me of one of those solid greek statues. Actually, it reminds me of the remains of Mount Vesuvius. As the volcano erupted and the people of the city tried to flee the place, some residents of the area decided to stay in their homes and die. In this image, I see an old lady leaning on a man who looks confused because he does not know whether he is going to live or die and at the same time, he has no expression because he is overwhelmed with the situation. It seems like the old lady and man are not acquainted with each other but they happened to be at the same place and time during the eruption of the volcano so they had no one but each other to hold on to.

Name:  Bea Lucaciu
Subject:  Unraveling/Vigeland Sculpture
Date:  2002-09-05 01:21:46
Message Id:  2505
From the first moment I saw this watercolor, I interpreted it as a kiss between two people. It seems to be a deep, loving moment experienced only by the lovers. The pastels make it seems almost dreamlike. It depicts how it is possible to become so lost in an intense moment that one becomes unaware of surroundings. The simplicity of the painting, along with the focus set upon the close-up of the two, demonstrates how feelings can be both basic and enthralling. The overlapping colors represent the unity between the individuals. The blending shows how they can become one person for at least a moment, though they are two different people.

When looking at the sculpture, I get feelings of frustration and sadness. I see the pair as mother and son. The woman is trying to console her son. She is trying to help/fix a problem over which she has no control. I also get a sense of desperation from her. It looks like, though he's a grown man, she is having a hard time 'cutting the apron strings.' However, her son appears very dissatisfied with her efforts. Judging by his body language, it seems as though he's wishing she would stop trying. This sculpture conveys a sort of alienation. It's as though he refuses to open up to her, to share his fears or concerns. The mother looks to be trying earnestly comfort him, though he blatantly ignores her while looking very tense. I get much more feeling from the mother than the son. He looks very cold, very removed from the situation (or wishing he was).

Name:  Jill Neustel
Subject:  Impotence
Date:  2002-09-05 12:26:47
Message Id:  2510
When I look at the two images, the sculpture draws my eye first. I look at the picture and I am instantly struck by the expressions on the faces of the man and the woman. The sculpture tells me a story of difficulty. The man (Fred) looks impotent and powerless, while the woman (Wilma) is both strong and comforting. She plays both of the roles, masculine and feminine, and Fred is unable to cope with his lack of power. He feels stripped of his identity and is stubbornly pouting. Wilma wants him to feel engaged and is willing to strip herself of her power in order to make him happy.

I think that part of the reason I feel that Fred is powerless stems from his lack of a direct gaze. He is the object being gazed upon, which is a role traditionally associated with women. Wilma, instead, utilizes the power of the gaze and takes on the traditional masculine role.

The scene reminds me of an attempted sexual encounter wherein the man finds himself unable to perform. In this situation, the woman becomes the power figure and the man inadequate. In order to maintain the normal "routine", women in this situation generally give up their power. They work to remain feminine so that the men can continue to be powerful and masculine. (This is not a practice that I feel is the right thing to do, but I do think that it is common.)

The watercolor painting does not speak to me as much as the sculpture. In it, I see a flow of shared energy, like two people's auras comingling. There is a give-and-take situation, with shared middle ground. The painting represents what I think should happen in an ideal relationship--the power is equal and both members have their own identity but also shared ground. This is very unlike what I see in the sculpture; almost the exact opposite, in fact.

Name:  Elisa
Subject:  response (or lack of...)
Date:  2002-09-05 12:27:50
Message Id:  2511
In my attempt to interpret Burgmayer's watercolor, I am struck with the sense of fluidity that emerges from the piece. I see the representation of the coming together of two groin areas,(sorry, I couldnt think of a better word to describe that-- esp. considering that I cannot visually assign a gender to any of the pair), and the fluid that is produce in response to simultaneous stimulation and pleasure that is shared between the two. It is a piece about bodies responding to one another--- about communication--- and, from the gentle, warm colors that the artist used to depict the act, I think that Burgmayer is telling us that this is a beautiful act that is not to be feared but enjoyed.

The sculpture however, is a prime example of communication gone wrong. The piece to me is obvisouly gendered--- the figure on the left being an older woman, while the one on the right is that of a young male. I echo what my classmates have written already in saying that the pair seems to be that of a mother and son (what marks that for me is the emphasis placed on her stomach which appears to be sagging from having given birth to children). He is about to grow up--- leave the house, become a "man." But he does not want to leave the comforts of home. He ignores her; furthermore, he is frustrated by his mother's attempt to console him. The more she tries to communicate, the more he is distant. There is no joy or pleasure shared between these two.

Name:  Masha Shardakova
Subject:  Unraveling/Vigeland sculpture
Date:  2002-09-05 14:48:19
Message Id:  2515
I think the interpretation benefits from connecting these two images, not because I am running late and trying to minimize my effort, rather it is my vulgar need for some sort of causality; sheer emotion, however powerful aesthetically, does not satisfy my rationality.

Once juxtaposed and treated as complimentary, these images offer a broad range of possible interpretations, from widely explored in folk wisdom "once together now apart" to something of more complex aesthetic bent, like Euripides' Fedra, where the woman is filled with sexual desire and it is through this desire that she makes sense of the world, while for the man sexuality is not instrumental in his sense-making process, for him it is a moment of self-denial, of giving-in to some foreign force; that is why the inter-sexual dialogue is never complete and both sides remain at a loss.

Name:  Masha
Subject:  adding to my comment on Unraveling/Vigeland sculpture
Date:  2002-09-05 15:13:10
Message Id:  2517
I am afraid I have left out the age notion. Of course, the woman is older as she represents old earthy desire (knowledge or blindness depending on the viewer value system), while the youth of the man suggests his breaking free from the old world and searching for a new truth (illusion or enlightening).
Name:  Maggie
Subject:  Response to 'Unraveling' and Vigeland structure
Date:  2002-09-05 17:28:48
Message Id:  2520
It is odd to me that this piece is called 'Unraveling' because when I first looked at it, I saw it more as a coming-together picture. I also did not immediately see the image as very sensual/sexual. But upon reconsideration of the artwork and the title, I could see it both ways. If the gray object at the top is a penis, we can interpret the 'Unraveling' title as both literal and figurative. Perhaps the woman was a virgin, and it seems to her that she is literally, physically unraveling. Or perhaps, for any number of reasons, the sex she is currently experiencing is causing her to unravel emotionally.
I also did not see the Vigeland sculpture as very sexual. In our society, nakedness is almost always associated with sex, and these two statues were naked, but other than that I didn't see it as sexual. I saw it more as a sad time for both of them, and that their relationship was more about companionship than sex. The woman was older, and appeared more concerned for the man than sadness. The younger man seemed worried or upset about something also, but was clearly not responding to the woman's comfort.
Name:  Iris Dickerson
Subject:  Unraveling/Vigeland sculpture
Date:  2002-09-05 18:27:36
Message Id:  2521
Unraveling: I see...
Two beings: closed, private, individuals. They allow themselves to be poured from their separate containers. They spill their vulnerability openly upon each other. Together they create a pallet of colorful experiences and ideas. Eventually they are able to mold into each other. They not only meet, but overlap. Taking parts of the other person as their own until they are too entangled to be easily separated. Still they have so much more that they can give to each other.

Vigeland sculpture: I see...
Two lovers battling against their own internal safety mechanisms that tell them to be careful, not to share too much of themselves to the other for fear of loosing their own identity. One man ponders how to explain these feelings to his partner, while his partner patiently encourages him to open him to open himself.

Return to Course Home Page