Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Culture Study Trip, Day 3: Tuesday: Stockholm

Leaving our tight-quarters on the ship, my group had a hard time finding a bus that could carry all of us to the place where we would buy our unlimited 72-hour bus pass. After accomplishing what seemed impossible with other really determined travelers, we made it to our hotel to drop of our things and make our way to the Drottninghom Royal Palace. In English this place is called “Queen’s Island,” which was so since it was a summer home for a Swedish queen during the 16th century. The palace style was very much Baroque, since it was redone by Nicodemus Tessin the Elder and then later his son when a fire destroyed the smaller version of it.  In every room, the viewer saw impressions of what the royal family’s power that they wanted to portray to their supplicants. This is especially evident with the constant use of the queen’s monogram, the one who had the palace resize and decorated. Another major piece of evidence was the room in which the queen used to sit and listen to any petitioners from her court. The whole room was filled from the ceiling to the very walls surrounding us with murals of the queen’s power as regent over her son’s thrown and then also her son’s Godly power as king and his marriage. One must also not forget the constant use of the Swedish lion found in each mural as another representation of the Swedish power.
In another room, one might also find a public bedroom in which the queen rise from the bed, like one of the French kings, and dress before her supplicants. Then she could sit on her bed and also privately talk to the petitioner if she wanted a more private/intimate setting to talk business. This room is actually the last room in which one would see Baroque period decorations since the next generations of queens do come and make there changes here and there to fit more in current styles and tastes. The rest of the palace was mainly lightly decorated and airy. In other words, no more dark rooms filled with intense details and dark colors.  One could even find silk still on the walls with numerous pictures of past kings and queens with very large eyes. It seems though the painter were required to make their regents eyes more so since it is said that those with large, round eyes also have a major characteristic trait of curiosity.
Later we headed next door to the Royal Court Theater that is still being used today by the current Royal family. The people running it had kept it nicely preserved for visitors to see how it previously looked back when it was first made as a Rococo theatre. Backstage there was also the constant use of the very methods that they used back in the day to change scenes and make special effects. Later there was a video of how current and past theater workers use to go about doing plays and what equipment they use to use. All in all, I think anyone backstage might have had a workout planned with all of the work they had to accomplish. Just changing a scene required men to go round and round a wheel to pull back the illusion and replace it with another. And another thing, most Swedish properties were painters who could imitate stone or create illusions in rooms. This was so to not only create balance but also by saying that their painters were so good that they didn’t need to import all those expensive stones or decorations since their painters could just paint an illusion and it could look just as good if not better.
After visiting the theater we walk around the parks, which were currently adding lime trees, to the Chinese Pavilion that was made as a gift to Queen Lovisa Ulrika. We couldn’t go inside since it is only opened during the summer, like most places, but the structure was beautifully done in imitation to Chinese art and themes. There was also a restaurant that is still running and using the same space that was used as a kitchen during Queen Lovisa’s days. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Culture Study Trip, Day 2: Monday: Helsinki

Today we toured the capital. As we walked toward and away from the Senate Square we stopped here and there to catch a glimpses of Finland’s past in the architecture that was currently being preserved. When we finally did reach the Square we saw this major memorial statue surrounded by the ‘Buddy Bears’ of each country represented in the UN. The statue was to commemorate Alexander II and his establishing the Diet of Finland and autonomy of Finland from Russia. Below his statue are other statues related to law, culture or light, labor and peace.  

Directly behind this statue was the glorious Cathedral in a neoclassical style by Carl Engel and Ernst Lohrmann. On each side of the Cathedral was the University, the University Library and the Senate House also made by Engel but in a Classicist Tradition. Later we walked around some more and viewed places like the Neo-Renaissance House of Estates, the National Bank and the art nouveau rail station made by none other than Eliel Saarinen himself along with the National Museum.

After lunch at the University we headed to the Parliament House that was currently quiet since everyone went back to their home region to take care of affairs that day. On the way there we walked past a stature of President Mannerheim, a very much-noted figure in the history of Finland. As we gave up our cell phones, got ride of our bags and coats and turned off our flash, I noticed that the building itself created this very cold, bank-like feel that I would expect at a very old American bank. It was pretty much minimally adorned with artistically laid floors and weird MP elevators that never stopped moving and had no doors (so one must be careful with stray body parts J). 

There were the usual statues here and there of past presidents and a ceremonial press room, but overall the only think that caught my attention was the stairway that had this major lighting from the windows making it seem like one was walking up into Heaven itself while some of the halls that lead away from it had dark (or black) doors that looked pretty ominous. Finally, when we reached the end of the tour we ended up in the place where all the MPs meet and deal with the nation’s policies. It was very much what I expected except for the naked statures of Past, Present and Future standing against the main wall behind the podium. The subject was appropriate but what made it a sort of scandal at the time was the fact that they were naked men with one naked woman holding her baby, the future. Personally I kind of like the artist choice but the Finnish people found it inappropriate for an area where there should be no distractions.
 After that we walked Esplanadi Street and stopped again here and there at buildings that still had restored structures of Finland past. Following that, it was off to the ferry and Stockholm.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Culture Study Trip, Day 1: Sunday: Helsinki

The air was cold. Not surprising since it was winter and I was currently residing in a Nordic region. What was unusual was the fact that we were farther South from the University, which should have been colder than here. I guess since we were closer to a big amount of water I should have expected it. Anyways, my group had disembarked the train and dropped off our stuff at the hotel after an overnight ride to Helsinki from Oulu; the capital of Finland, after first being in Turku and then finally in present Helsinki (which had previously been on the mouth of the River Vantaa for defense and trading but it later proved unfavorable and was moved to its’ present location.)
I can definitely say that it was a major improvement in architecture in comparison to the forest city of Oulu. The very air and cultural vibe suggested that I stepped into another side of Finland. Since we arrived on a Sunday morning it was pretty quiet, so I was able to focus more on my surroundings rather than the constant distraction with traffic and people.
  We left the city on a tour bus to head out to a sort of artist colony (as I call it or maybe someone else did but I can’t remember) to see the homes of major names in Finnish culture and history. We first stopped at the home of architect of Eliel Saarinen, which was currently being run as a museum of the architects and artists who once lived and worked in and around Saarinen’s house. At first glance it caught my attention. The greenery lovingly attached itself to the walls. The lake, Hvittrรคsk or white lake in Swedish, calmly flowed behind the house. The doors and windows warmly welcomed in not only visitors but also the light itself. It was like one of those storybook houses you read about but hardly see in America. There were very few dark areas in this house in my opinion. One could basically be close to nature here without being battered by the weather in the National-Romantic style that Saarinen worked with. And with all the furniture and rooms being quaintly made by the architect and his creative family there was also a story like all good homes should have.
Saarinen had first married a girl named Matilda Gylden. Being a man who worked twelve hours a day on his creations or projects, he rarely had time for the beautiful social butterfly. She then went across what I call some sort of courtyard to spend time with Saarinen’s fellow architect Herman Gesellius. At that same time Gesellius’ sister, Loja was living with him to help with his current projects. She not only worked with Gesellius but also worked side by side with Saarinen during his twelve-hour workdays. As fate would have it both couples became really close and in 1904 both Matilda and Saarinen got a divorce and then married their lovers. One would think there would have been animosity between the two couples but in actuality they staid pretty close. As evidence or result of this story, there was a stained class window of Matilda sitting on a bench in the middle with Saarinen and Gesellius sitting on each end, in the common dining area and in the kid’s play room.  This was my favorite piece along with the hand stitch carpet benches by Loja. I must say that Nordic countries sure do know how to decorate and build homes.
Another thing I would like to mention was how Saarinen designed his bathroom. Not a big fan of saunas (unusual in Finland), he placed this pretty big bathtub in its’ stead. Though what caught my eye and attention were the sinks. Yes there were two of them, which from my limited exposure, was not very common in Finnish bathrooms at that time. These sinks were placed at windows instead of the common walled mirror. It is said that Saarinen believed that one would live longer if one didn’t see oneself in the morning. Personally I am in total agreement because no one looks great when his or her eyes first open. In fact, I love this concept so much I am going to make my bathroom that way when I build a house.
In addition to some of his work in Finland, there are a lot of structures that in Saarinen constructed in America since he got more work there. The most known work was with his son Eero with the creation of the General Motors Technical Center in Michigan, the Paris World Exhibition and his son’s design of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. After the North tower of his home was burnt down, Saarinen moved his family to America since the cost to repair the tower and upkeep the house would have been major in relation to the slow job market he had in Finland.

After that visit we headed to the colony and looked at the artist Pekka Halonen‘s Karelian house, Halosenniemi. As expected at any Karelian home, it was made out of timber. Though the crown jewel would be the humongous of a window that let in the light of the day for Halonen to work freely on his paintings. The rest of his house was decorated in themes of his artwork in each room respectively. One main difference from Saarinen’s home was the fact that the rooms were larger and the doorframes were bigger. After that we took a tour of the Ateneum Art Museum that was currently hosting work by Halonen and other historical or contemporary art.