Climbing up a Mountain – Graz &Wien part 3

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I returned to Austria last November but this time with my hubby. We first visited our friends in Graz and climbed our very first mountain ever. That was so awesome! First of all, you need to keep in mind this is my home landscape:

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Here in Keski-Pohjanmaa region anything over 2 meters above the sea level is considered a hill. Seriously. When my hubby first moved here I tried to explain where friend of mine was living. “It’s the red house right on the top of the Koutonen-hill,” I said. My hubby gave me a perplexed look. I offered a more detailed description and he replied: “Oh, I hadn’t realised there is a hill there.”

See what I mean?

So a mountain, even a small one, is a Big Thing in my books.

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Even the relatively gentle slopes around Graz are impressive in my eyes.

The mountain we tackled was the Schöckl. It’s not that high as far as mountains go, but a mountain nevertheless. Our initial plan was to take the cable car up but it happened to be closed for an inspection that day – which we discovered only after we got there. That put a slight strain on our timetable but we still decided to climb up. We took a path that circled around the peak, a route our friends had not taken before even though they are regular visitors. The day was warm and sunny and  the views were quite spectacular. It had rained the day before and there had already been a quite a bit of snow on the Schöckl but the warm Föhn-wind had melted it all away. In fact, the weather felt like springtime!

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The northwards view about 2/3 up to the top.

It’s just mindbogglingly beautiful to look across the landscape from an elevated position. Things in the landscape seem both faraway and oddly within reach. I can understand why they have used the same perspective in classical Chinese landscape paintings. There is something both awe-inspiring and numinous in such a perspective. This is what the Aesthetics’ concept of Sublime was created for.

While perfectly sunny the weather on top was chilling to the bone because of the wind .

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Not quite the highest point but who cares.

We had planned to have a picnic once we reached the peak but it was just too cold and we had to settle for a more shielded spot. Still, the prospect was magnificent, and while the wind certainly made us finish our meal quickly, the sun was also getting closer and closer to the horizon. We decided to get a more direct route down which also meant a more steep descent. We needed to hurry if we were to get past the steepest parts before sunset. It does get dark quite quickly – especially in comparison out lingering sunsets in Finland.

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The southward side and views to the south-east.

Seeing the sun set from a mountain is one of the most spectacular sights. To watch how the blue, cold, and mysterious shadows creep across the landscape below you, and how the green landscape turns into a sea of blue hue with pinkish-orange islands of hills and smaller mountains. That’s when the air, the actual atmosphere itself becomes somehow more tangible. You can see and experience the vastness of the planet, that the space between things-of-the-world is not a void but a substance.

I can hardly wait for the next time.

Gestures on Paper

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The Nordic Society of Aesthetics had its annual conference in Oslo (May 30th – June 1st) and the year’s theme was gesture. It’s a fairly complicated philosophical concept in Aesthetics. The subjects of the presentations varied from literature and visual arts to dance and even logic and the prisoners’ dilemma which is a game theory example of cooperation. Bit hard to see that coming at you in an Aesthetics conference but you’d be surprised. I had lot’s of time to draw. In conferences the presentations are grouped in sessions, 3-4 four presentations in each, so there usually is at least one presentation you’re not that interested in in each. And anyway you get tired as the conference lasts. The last day is usually quite hard on your concentration. One professor admitted to this as we waited for the check-in to open at the airport on our way home, but don’t tell anyone one that we thought so, it’s one of those things you’re not supposed to mention in the academic world.

My scanner is still packed away after we moved this summer so I just took photos of the sketch book. This is the first batch. I’ll post the last ones some other time.

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First day, 30.5., and I arrived early at the Oslo University campus and was consequently the second person to sign in. I had more than half an hour so I decided to draw the closed cafe in the lobby. Really need to draw more architectural stuff. Really. Rainer Nägele was the first keynote speaker of the day. His the professor of Germanic languages and literature AND Classics and comparative literature at Yale (Kudos!). Surprised myself with the drawing since I have considered myself ropy when it comes to drawing people and especially faces. I think the low lighting helped as it made features stand out.

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I took the second morning off and went to see the Historical Museum. I told myself that did so to gather material for my Ph.D. thesis but to be honest, I don’t need any new material since I’m almost done writing it. I just went to see cool stuff and to draw. They have a really great exhibition of the early Norwegian history from the stone age till the vikings, and they have some pretty neat stuff from the Americas and from the Arctic. The claw on the left is one of 10 or so polar bear claws made into a necklace, each being about 15 cm (6 in.) long. The stylised horse is from an Celtic silver tetradrachm, and on the right is a Hopi ritual doll (they had a great collection of native America stuff from both continents which are great to draw.).

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Left a bronze animal votive from Norway and around 1100-900 BC. Really cool shape to draw; beautiful and expressive. The bluish motive is a silver brooch of viking origin. Stunning in its design and the craftsmanship is spectacular (not mine, the silversmith’s). I could have stared at it for hours. Have to go back just to see it again!

The second day’s first presentation I saw was by Gottfied Boehm.

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Feeling tired of indoors and having no plans for the night I went to the Botanical Gardens all the way across the city. Oslo has a great underground system so it took me maybe 15 min to get there (get the travel card for a week, even if you’re staying only for a weekend, if you have any intention to travel outside the downtown Oslo. It’ll save you money and it’s so much easier just to hop on without punching in or anything. Plus it makes you look like a native!). I love botanical gardens or any gardens for that matter, and this one was no different. The spring bloom was almost over but I managed to see some lovely magnolias (God, they are glorious!) and the local speciality, the row of Davidia involucrata, the Handkerchief trees – the only member of its genus and really a sight to see when in full bloom. It has large flowers, about 20 cm long and they really are like washed handkerchiefs drying in the wind. Their other common name, the ghost tree, kinda makes sense too.

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Last day’s keynote was John Paul Ricco from University of Toronto. He talked about the process art of Felix Gonzales-Torres. On the right is a participant sitting in front of me during the first session. He had a really nice back and neckline and he remained absolutely still for a long while except for the head which he steadily tilted from side to side every now and again. That’s the why of the picture: I drew both stances into one. Like how it turned out.

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The last session was in a small classroom with long tables. A really tall young man sat in front of me with an empty row between us. The empty table hid his thighs producing this disturbing illusion of legless man and manless legs. The right one I drew the Sunday morning just as I was about to leave. One building close the hotel has these really interesting balconies with window boxes large enough for small trees and bushes. Didn’t finish it though. Probably just too tired of watching at that point. Maybe I will finish it one day but, hey, that’s just how it sometimes goes.

Evan Thompson

Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia

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