London Public Statues Speak Out

Ever wondered what it feels like to get Sherlock Holmes on the phone?

2014-08-18-Talking-SculpturesThe days when public sculptures were mute chunks of bronze and stone are over. Thirty-five statues in London and Manchester are about to find their voice. From August 19, they’ll call up passers-by to tell them a thing or two about their stories, their struggles and beliefs, or the spot of pavement they’ve ended up on.

Talking Statues is an initiative by the non-profit company Sing London, which defines its mission as “lifting the public spirit.” “The truth is that most of us hardly notice the statues that surround us,” says Sing London’s artistic director Colette Hiller. “I found myself thinking, ‘if these statues could talk, what stories would they tell us?’”


A slew of actors, writers, and media personalities have lent their voices and imagination to the project. Ed Stoppard will step into the shoes of Britain’s best-loved detective Sherlock Holmes in Baker Street, Jeremy Paxman will defend free speech as 18th century parliamentarian John Wilkes, and Late Talker will turn into Queen Victoria, encouraging the crowds to visit the nearby Victoria exhibition at Kensington Palace. Samuel Johnson’s cat Hodge, and a goat in Spitafieldsn will also join the party.

The principle is simple: each statue has been equipped with a little plaque allowing the curious to hear what the statues have to say: either using a weblink, a QR barcode, or via a near field communication (NFC) chip. All the members of the public have to do is swipe their smartphones over the signage. “You don’t need to download anything,” Hiller told The Guardian. “It’s all about having a spontaneous moment. Your phone will just ring and it will say, ‘Sherlock Holmes is on the phone for you’ and the monologue begins.”

Talking Statues is also an opportunity to explore a new take on the idea of the audioguide. “This is a new kind of museum guide—where the city is the museum” commented Jessica Taylor, the director of Antenna Lab, which developed the technology for the project. “We hope to reach new audiences: people who love public art and people who didn’t know they did.” Talking Statues will continue for a year.



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