The ‘Talking Statues’ project uses celebrity voices, via your mobile, to imagine what London’s sculptures might be saying. Andy Hill hears some of their stories. Illustrations Thomas Havell.
Reading people is better than books. You guys are so beautiful to watch
This sculpture sees all in east London.
There’s a flirty vibe to this steel face by Glaswegian Bruce McLean, which has been smouldering at passers-by since 1993. Comedian Sara Pascoe reckons it’s feeling overlooked, however. You can hear her perform the monologue she’s written for ‘Eye-I’ by scanning a QR code on the side of the sculpture. ‘I think the reason so few people want to speak to me is because I, my eye, can see through their consciousness. People are really ashamed of their secrets,’ it concludes. It makes you think: it’s not just CCTV cameras watching you in the City.
Yes, I am boss-eyed. Yes, I have foul breath. And bad teeth
John Wilkes, Fetter Lane
Enlightenment rogue, high-society wit and the ‘ugliest man in England’.
In his day Wilkes was regarded as an extraordinarily unattractive bloke. But the man who inspired London’s only cross-eyed statue was no slouch with the ladies. He was also a campaigner for press freedom, so it’s appropriate the dogged Jeremy Paxman was chosen to bring Wilkes’s brand of literate pomposity to life. ‘When Lord Sandwich said I would either die on the gallows or from the pox,’ Paxo proclaims (in character), ‘I did reply that would depend upon whether I embraced his principles or his mistress.’
I never actually said ‘We are not amused’, you know
Queen Victoria, Blackfriars Bridge
Longest-serving British monarch. Bit of a grump. Or was she?
The stony-faced Empress of India had loads of statues made of her. This one is a particular marvel – an elaborate representation of the woman who gave a name to her era in her usual mode of dowdy sourpuss. Except it seems our great queen wasn’t always ‘not amused’. In fact, she was prone to bouts of unbridled laughter. Prunella Scales gives voice to the monarch: ‘I think people forget I was young,’ the great ruler remarks, helping breathe a bit of warmth into the chilly bronze.
I am Hodge, perhaps the most famous cat that ever lived
Hodge the Cat, Gough Square
The doted-upon Lil Bub of his time.
Hodge was the beloved pet of Samuel Johnson in the 1760s. Now he sits atop his owner’s crowning achievement – the first English dictionary – outside their home in Bloomsbury. There are several statues of moggies in the capital, but none of the others have enjoyed cameo roles in works by Samuel Beckett and Vladimir Nabokov. Nicholas Parsons lends his dulcet tones to this quintessentially English cat. ‘Each afternoon, Dr Johnson would pause from his writing to go out and buy me a plate of fresh oysters,’ he purrs, reminding us that cats have always been smug pricks.
‘Talking Statues’ started on Tue Aug 19 and runs for a year, with 30 statues in London. To listen to the monologues use any QR code reader on your smartphone to scan the codes on the artworks.
For the full list of sculptures see talkingstatues.co.uk.
Fancy a call from Sherlock Holmes? Find out more about Talking Statues here.
Illustrations by Thomas Havell