Sunday, May 02, 2010

Architectural Anomaly Part 3: Victoria's Way

22 acres of surrealism lie tucked away in the lush countryside of Co Wicklow. A fair distance away from major roads and cities, finding Victoria's Way was not easy. I've been procrastinating about writing this for quite some time, partly because I'm lazy and partly because i wanted to keep it to myself. Armed with a rough idea of the location, it took a while to find after turning off the road to Roundwood. It was worth the search to stumble upon an tranquil yet strange amalgamation of grass, water, trees, bog land, plants, wild flowers and granite sculptures that hordes of tourists have yet to discover.

Victoria's Way harmonizes perfectly with the landscape and yet retains a completely surreal feel- granite elephants, a 20 foot tall finger or sculptures of Ganesh are the last things you would expect to find when walking through the Irish countryside. Victoria's Way is a spiritual sculpture park and the creation of Victor Langheld whom i met briefly when i visited. Langheld was born in Berlin in 1940 and has been on a life long journey of enlightenment.

Victoria's Way is a mini pilgrimage that guides the pilgrim from spiritual birth to decay. Passing through the Creation Gate (above) the pilgrim encounters 9 black granite carvings of the Hindu deity Ganesh ‘Lord of Obstacles’. Ganesh helps the pilgrim reach the wellspring of his or her spiritual journey and return safely. Then the wanderer enters an enchanted forest where he or she happens upon 7 sculptures that symbolize the phases of the spiritual quest.

In an interview with the Irish Times, Langheld described burning with two desires from the age of five: the desire to create something for which he will be remembered and the desire to find out 'How does it work?'. He was five years old when the German city of Dresden was bombed in the second World War .

"That was Ash Wednesday 1945 - that night the city was cremated and I with it. And ever since I've thought 'Why do these things happen?' and 'How does it work?' And, of course, 'How does it work?' is the fundamental drive to knowledge. I came to Ireland and as I grew up I felt that there was more to life than living in a semi-detached with a wife, two kids and a job in a bank."

At the age of 25 he received a large sum of money from his father which allowed him to depart for India in a search for a deeper understanding of life. He spent the next 25 years studying under a variety of Hindu gurus and Buddhist bhikkhu's (both Hinayana and Mahayana traditions) where he acquired their knowledge, practiced their problem solving techniques; before challenging their problem solutions and methods and moving on.

During this time he returned to Europe occasionally where he learnt semantics, physics, quantum mechanics, information technology and a variety of contemporary therapy systems. At the age of 39 he took first novice, then full ordination as a Theravada Buddhist monk, from the Mahathero Dhammawansa. He was named 'Bodhangkur' which means 'emerging knowledge'.

In 1989 whilst back in Ireland, Langheld had a vision of a sculpture park that would explore the journey from un-wholeness to wholeness, to awakening, enlightenment, fulfillment and the boundless happiness that is the reward for complete fulfillment. He sketched the images and travelled to India again. He found some artisans,
T.Baskaran and D.V Murugan in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu in Southern India. It took a number of years for the pieces to be painstakingly hand carved from black granite and brought back to Ireland.

I spent a sunny afternoon wandering around, scratching my head when reading the sporadically placed little wooden signs with strange messages and trying to figure out the symbolism behind each sculpture. The Ferryman/Decay (above) was my favourite and according to Victor:

"The ferryman’s craft lies dead in the water. He can no longer reach the ‘other’ shore. Unable to touch, he dies. The sculpture represents the internal state of the disconnected human. Because reality happens as after-affect of momentary contact, loss of connectivity (i.e. of touch) brings with it not only decay of the sense of realness (i.e. of being), but also of consciousness and of the happiness derived from it.

Disconnection is inevitable because connection is momentary, therefore not conserved. For a human to stay alive, i.e. to be real, conscious and joyful (i.e. self-realized), she must continuously touch or be touched. But only an ‘other’ can touch.
The individual who tries to remain still, who cannot re-invent herself with significant difference, decays and dies."

It's a great way to spend an hour or two and if you're lucky you'll meet Victor somewhere on the grounds-
trying to decipher even a 5 minute chat with the man is enough to act as fodder for thought and leave your mind racing.

1st May to 31st August
7 days a week
12.30 - 6.30pm

For more information about the park and sculptures:

Lake & Entrance Image: Fergerino


Anonymous said...

I've been there! Myself and my beautiful friend Rekha stumbled upon it by accident and were overwhelmed. My favourite moment of my visit was wandering around the back of a massive stone statue of the fasting Buddha only to find that he had a nokia mobile in his back pocket. Closer inspection of other statues showed incongruous technological paraphenelia all over the place - Ganesh, for example, was waving a stone floppy disk in one of his hands. I also got to meet Victor/ia, who taught me a lesson about suffering by harming a tree to help a sapling. He addressed Rekha with the Hindi word for mother throughout our conversation. He was quite mad and quite wonderful. I've often wondered if I dreamed the place up. So nice to be reminded of it again.

Green of Eye, Sharp of Claw said...

@Demurelemur: Yep i recall there being a little references carved into some of the sculptures- and if memory serves me right there was a mouse with a Guinness on one Ganesh sculpture in the front field.

So glad you've experienced it. My 15 minute conversation with him left me reeling!

Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT post! I'm bound there tomorrow for a picnic if the weather holds up. I love the slot in the shed for the admission money, and the fact that there's often nobody serving in the (very well priced!) gift shop... it's so trusting and open.

Somebody told me once that the finger was once something far more phallically themed, but it had to be re-carved by request from the neighbours.

Green of Eye, Sharp of Claw said...

@K8: Cheers!
It's a strange but truly special place. I had a chuckle at the thought of a more phallic shaped finger-'create or die' indeed :P

Fergerino said...

I too had the pleasure of meeting Victor on my last trip there - he's quite the philosopher, and it made the trip even more memorable than usual!
I know what you mean about wanting to keep the place to yourself - it's such a wonderfully tranquil place that it seems almost a shame to share it! But it is a jewel in the heart of some wonderful landscape, and it deserves to be shared.

Well done on a super description Victoria's Way - it makes me want to go back there tomorrow!

Heather! said...

I visited Victoria's Way in 2008 on my first trip to Ireland (I later moved there from the U.S.). We found it completely by accident, which I think is somewhat ironically intentional. Victor appeared out of nowhere a few times as we walked through the place. I was a student of Eastern religions, so it was especially fortuitous to have stumbled upon such a strange and mystical place. It felt like home...but like no home I'd ever imagined. Like an earlier commenter, I do often feel as though it were some magical dream. Real or imagined, it is a secret treasure I will cherish always!

Green of Eye, Sharp of Claw said...

@Heather: i agree with you re happy accident, it appears a few have had this experience by stumbling on it.

I took my partner there last year and he was amazed at the place. It truly is a magical spot :)

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