On attending the Viking Ship Museum’s exhibition in Olso, Norway, observation and reflection were unavoidable.
I brush my fingers along the dead man’s casket. His skeleton is a jumbled string of worn bones. The skull, placed gently among the black sand, smiles mournfully. I see, in my mind’s eye, his bone fingernails reaching up and scraping the glass casket, his skull slowly turning to face me, eye sockets empty yet alive. I step back from the exhibit. It all got a bit too real, for just a second. And yet, I think, this skeleton was human once, was once alive like I am- and I turn to my friend and we smile together, sharing in that sudden, jarring reminder that we too will become bones among dust.
On attending the Viking Ship Museum’s exhibition in Olso, Norway, observation and reflection were unavoidable. Walking around the exhibit, the time I spent admiring the longships and the other items displayed unfurled inner reflections, created a state of mindfulness: I thought of the daily lives of the Viking raiders and of their slaves; I wondered how different were they, really, to us? I also thought of the centuries of work that this museum had given to preserve this piece of history.
The four longships displayed had been discovered as fragments, yet the museum’s restoration workers had painstakingly mended each boat. My reflections persisted when studying the myriad of other items shown, including ornate bridles and intricately-carved figureheads, some of which were said to ward off bad omens. These smaller exhibits were wonders to observe – I noticed the tiny animals carved into the wood; the chains and pendants that were worn by people like us, not so long ago. It was uncanny for me to think of their time, whilst I now live in a vastly different world.
In being fully conscious of my surroundings in this museum, these explorations of inner thoughts became enlightening.
To experience this state of mindfulness required you to stop, observe, and think. It fitted perfectly with what I believed the experience of visiting an exhibition should be. Indeed, when confronted with any form of art, the most essential and necessary response is that of mindfulness: to really feel your own emotions and reactions to that artwork, or artefact.
The resulting peace found by being present in that particular moment is unparalleled. Your first sight of a new object or artwork, like my first reaction to seeing the Viking skeleton, might be awe, boredom, or even shock and horror. But, before any initial judgement, the practise of mindfulness encourages paying full, undivided attention to the present, which can bring you a sudden, unexpected clarity. Breathing life into Viking history, the physical experience of observing the warships and the artefacts was for me a way to honour the past, and to reflect on the now.
In my experience, utilising mindfulness to observe and reflect is a valuable skill to practise.
When analyzing exhibitions, a little imagination goes a long way. I sometimes find that rather than the grandiose, it is the smaller things like a necklace, or a person’s shoes, which suddenly make the past feel so very real. Perhaps it is because it feels like you could have owned these items, and so, that object holds more personal meaning. By approaching the objects through intense conscientiousness, you can further learn to observe your own thoughts and mindsets.
You learn you are bored by Viking tent pegs. Or you find you are enthralled by a drinking-cup and cannot dismiss the mental image of a group of avid teenage raiders, who, eager to validate themselves, used that very cup to drink great quantities of ale. In being fully conscious of my surroundings in this museum, these explorations of inner thoughts became enlightening.
The museum exhibition ended with a film demonstration of the lives of Vikings, both as warriors at sea and as farmers at home. The immersive experience was based on visual and material primary sources. It was a thought-provoking way to end my visit. In my experience, utilising mindfulness to observe and reflect is a valuable skill to practise, whether you find yourself in the Oslo Viking museum or any other art and media exhibition.
By Sophie Bodenham
Illustration: Hannah Imafidon