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London calling: Talking statues cause a stir in England

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London calling: Talking statues cause a stir in England

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The statues of England have cleared their throats and are waiting to speak to passing tourists.

A new, interactive arts project is giving a voice to dozens of statues of historical and fictional characters in London and Manchester.

The scheme comes from “public interventions” company Sing London, with funding from the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.

It allows the characters to tell their stories and entertain curious visitors as they pass by.

Colette Hiller, the Creative Director of Sing London, explained: “We thought, ‘If statues could talk, what stories might they tell?’ They’ve been around for years and years, they’ve seen things, but what are they really thinking? And we thought by giving statues an inner voice we could breathe new life into them and make people to look at them and listen to them.”

Thirty-five statues are included in the project.

By using a smart phone to scan a digital code on a plaque or by typing in a short web address, visitors can get an instant “call” from the statue.

Among the “talking statues” is Hodge the Cat, a feisty feline immortalised in a whimsical passage in James Boswell's 'Life of Samuel Johnson'.

Sherlock Holmes has also been brought to life, in the heart of Baker Street.

The black statue of Queen Victoria, which stands on the capital’s Blackfriars Bridge, is given a dry, witty monologue, exploring who she really was.

“Queen of England for 63 years, seven months and two days. But who’s counting?” she asks. “You probably picture me as a stout somewhat sour-faced old woman in black clothes. This statue certainly isn’t doing me any favours in that regard”.

Hiller explained how the choice of statues to include in the project was made.

“Some statues tell stories you know already; like Victoria, we know why she is there. But somebody like John Wilkes, people might pass him and not know that he was the one responsible for ensuring that we had free speech for the press. So that story deserves to be told,” she said.

The John Wilkes statue, voiced by British broadcaster Jeremy Paxman, looks back on a lifetime of achievements.

A journalist and politician, Wilkes advocated free press and forced the British government to allow newspapers to publish full accounts of parliamentary debates.

His statue says: “I spoke up for the universal right to vote, for freedom for the American colonies and for the liberty of the press. Turns out, though, history remembers me for my words, more than any action.”

A whole host of UK writers, actors and comedians were asked to create monologues.

In Spitalfields Market, a white goat is voiced by actor Hugh Dennis.

Named ‘I Goat’, artist Kenny Hunter’s sculpture is designed to be a symbol for the waves of migrants who found sanctuary in that area of east London.

“On top of the statue,” the goat says. “That’s right, you’ve got me now. Now, you may be wondering what a goat is doing on top of a pile of packing cases. Don’t worry, I’m not real,” continues the recording.

Despite the project’s reliance on technology, Hiller says the idea behind it was actually to draw people away from their smart phones.

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