Not so silent: Artists make London's statues 'talk'

Standing silently between two lines of traffic crossing the River Thames, Queen Victoria cuts an imperious figure. Who knew that she was thinking how much she hated breastfeeding?

At least that is the thought imagined by an artistic group which has been making London’s statues “talk”, with a project that it hopes to extend to Chicago and Paris.

Passersby can scan a barcode below the plinth using a smartphone or visit a webpage that prompts a phone call from the person or animal depicted, and a short message recorded on their behalf.

“Hello? Victoria here. Queen of England for 63 years, seven months and two days. But who’s counting,” says the statue on the north side of Blackfriars Bridge, voiced by actress Prunella Scales from the television series “Fawlty Towers”.

The queen, who opened the bridge in 1869, recalls her beloved husband Albert and her nine children — “I hated breastfeeding” — and worries that her legacy may be forgotten.

A short walk away, on a quiet square off Fleet Street, office workers Margaret Connolly and Karen Muskett giggle as they listen to Samuel Johnson’s pet cat recount his love of oysters.

Hodge the Cat is depicted in a low statue opposite the house where Johnson, the 18th-century writer who compiled the first English dictionary, lived and worked.

“My favourite word, cat, is described as a domestic animal that catches mice. Actually, I much prefer shellfish,” opines the animal, voiced by broadcaster Nicholas Parsons.

Connolly came by to show her friend the statue on their lunch break. “It’s quite informative actually — it’s really good,” she told AFP.

The “Talking Statues” project is the latest from Sing London, a group which tries to get people to re-engage with public spaces. Previous work has seen them install pianos and ping-pong tables for people to play on.

“The idea is to make people look away from their telephone and enjoy the city that we all share,” said Colette Hiller, the US-born London resident who came up with the idea.

It is intended to “whet the appetite — to make you want to know more. There are many statues that people pass by and they have no idea why they’re there”, she told AFP.

The recorded comments are based on true stories about the personalities and the most popular character so far is Sherlock Holmes, the fictional detective depicted in a statue at Baker Street station, although Peter Pan in Hyde Park is a close second.

Almost 11,000 people listened in during the first month of the project, which is also taking place in the northwestern city of Manchester until August next year.

Hiller, a former actress who appeared in “Aliens”, is taking the idea to the US city of Chicago next summer, and also has hopes for Paris and other European cities in the future.