Talking Statues in London

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

At the weekend, I spent a day listening to London's Talking Statues.

This is a new project where a number of statues talk and tell their story to you, via your phone.

I love seeing statues, I have a pinterest board dedicated to my favourite statues. I've often looked at statues and wondered "who's that dude, why's he here?" (more often than not, it is a man).

So this project really appeals to me.

Doubly so, as it's part of a wider Digital R&D project from the Arts Council, Arts and Humanities Research Council and Nesta: essentially a way to have arts organisations think differently and try out digital tools. So: it's my day-job at the Horniman.

Over the course of the day, I visited twelve of the statues. Here are some thoughts.

  • I loved it. I found it great to hear from (some of) these characters, especially the historic people. Words to describe: fascinating, illuminating, funny, heartwarming, imaginative, informative. I learned things I never knew about Queen Victoria, Rowland Hill and John Wilkes.

  • I don't think the talking statues are designed to be seen the way I did, by visiting lots in one day. It works best as serendipity, you see a statue and then the plaque telling you to hear the statue. That said, something connecting them would be good too - a hashtag or something on the plaque to give the sense that there are more to see.
  • For me, the talking statues worked best when the statue was a real person (or animal). The fictionalisation of artworks didn't really appeal to me. But I loved hearing from the 'real' Queen Victoria, from Brunel or Rowland Hill.
  • The technology worked well for me. I can't use NFC tags (my phone doesn't like them) but the QR codes worked fine, as did typing in an address (I used that one most).
  • The NFC tag on the plaque is a symbol and the word 'Tap'. It was fascinating watching how people interpreted that. They tapped the tag with their feet, with their fingers, but never with their phones. Some people tapped repeatedly. (It reminded me of a time I saw a woman at the Horniman literally speak a question into an iPad as it had the wording "Ask a question" [we meant 'type in']).
  • Tech fans: the 'statues' don't actually phone you. It all connects to mobile-optimised websites which cleverly package streaming audio to look and feel like a telephone call.
  • At several of the stops, I got into conversations with other people about the technology, about the talking statues. It was quite enjoyable sharing these little moments.
  • Even when I was alone, my presence listening and looking at the statues encouraged other people to look at the statues that little bit more.
  • Public artworks are quite unusual in a museum sense. They often have no interpretation whatsoever.
  • My favourite: without doubt, Queen Victoria. Two of her statues are narrated, both by Prunella Scales. A wonderful actress playing a wonderful character.

What people talk about in the USA

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I'm off on my travels next week, to the USA. I'm taking in Long Island (the Hamptons!), New York City, Niagara Falls, the rather random city of Adrian, Michigan and Chicago.

Last time I went to New York, I loved the people-watching, seeing those glorious travel moments.

This time I think my ears will be attuned to hear more than three examples.

In anticipation, I've been looking at one of my favourite phrases to search on twitter: "people talk about in" - seeing what people talk about in certain places. It almost always seems to be America.

Here's hoping I'll be able to tweet my own version of these.

London from above: Westminster Cathedral

Monday, August 11, 2014

One of the greatest views in any city is from above.

In London, the two of the most famous ways to see the city from on high are the Shard and the London Eye.

But there are other ways (cheaper too). A few weeks ago, I went to Westminster Cathedral and took the lift to their tower to admire the views around me.

The views around Victoria show many modern buildings, lots of glass and steel offices and shopping centres - and some surprises like rooftop gardens.

Looking around from that vantage point gives a wonderful span of buildings including Westminster Abbey, the Cheesegrater, BT Tower, Walkie Talkie, the Shard, Strata SE1, Vauxhall and Battersea Power Station.

Carneval del Pueblo

Monday, August 04, 2014

Carneval del Pueblo - Europe's largest Latin American carnival which takes place in South London - was supposed to see its 2014 event yesterday. I had hoped to go along and take lots of photographs of the colourful costumes, dancing and music.

Sadly, it seems to have been postponed; the lastest in a long line of postponements or cancellations year after year. Hopefully it will be back soon as a full on parade from Elephant and Castle to Burgess Park and festival afterwards. I certainly enjoyed it.

In the meantime, here are some of my favourite photos from a previous Carneval del Pueblo.