Apr 13, 2014

Parikkala Patsaspuisto: The Forest of Gay Dreams and Nightmares

When Yuri, Jaan, and I traveled from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg in 1998, the train went north to Lahti and then east, entering Russia at Vainikkala.  But if you follow the border for another 75 miles, you will reach the small town of Parikkala, population 6,000, and a short distance outside, the Forest of Gay Nightmares, aka the Parikkala Sculpture Park (Patsaspuisto)

Veijo Rönkkönen (1944-2010) lived all his life in Parikkala.  He worked in the paper mill for 40 years. He was a recluse, with few friends; he never traveled.  In his spare time, he read, practiced yoga, and molded statues in concrete.

Nearly 500 of them.  Some women, animals, and abstract shapes, but mostly men. Mostly naked, or in underwear with explicit bulges.

Realistic, painted, with the haunting, blank expressions, carnivore-teeth (some with real dentures), and rubbery limbs.

Creepy like the underwater drowned-people sculptures in Grenada.

They are scattered randomly around his property, sitting, standing, working, singing, praying, meditating, chasing each other, hugging, doing acrobats, or marching, ghostly armies.

Some are half-hidden by the undergrowth, and jump out at you as if in surprise.  Others are covered in moss, relics of a decaying world.

Moment by moment, the figures become whimsical, mundane, homoerotic, surreal, and disturbing.

During his life, Rönkkönen adamantly refused to turn his sculpture garden into a tourist destination: it was private, a glimpse into his soul.  However, he was gracious to the visitors who stopped by, and as word got out, he won the Finland Prize from the Ministry of Education in 2007 and the Travel Journalists Guild Award in 2008.

Today the Union for Rural Education and Culture maintains the site, which receives 30,000 visitors per year.

It's always open.  Go at night, and then imagine trying to fall asleep in that cottage in the middle of the woods, surrounded by concrete images of your dreams, desires, terrors, and obsessions.

See also: Top Public Penises of Finland and The Gay Surrealism of Kalervo Palsa