For this post, I’m going to give my analysis of a project called Talking Statues.
Talking Statues is a project by Sing London utilising low-cost technology to bring statues to life across London and Manchester using various actors and writers.
Their aim is to make people aware of the history and heritage around them and to enable people to engage with their surroundings. By aiming to make the statues more accessible to the public, their hope is to make museums and other cultural activities more accessible as there are still barriers in regards to access to the museum, for a variety of reasons.
Their target audience is quite large in the respect that the vast majority of people own smart phones but I think it particularly suits those who find museums inaccessible or ‘aren’t for them’. I don’t think it suits young children because of the format and it isn’t great for those with physical disabilities, due to the display of some of the tags being placed in hard to reach places.
I think the technology is particularly easy to use once you work out what you are supposed to do. There are three options which gives you a choice, depending on what you are most familiar with. There is a QR code you can swipe, a short URL to type into your browser or you can literally just tap your phone to the NFC tag, which allows content to be streamed directly from the web. Once you’ve done this you get what looks like a phone call from the statue. Afterwards there is a little more information available and links to pages of interest. To me, as someone not particularly accustomed to technology, it was extremely easy to use and very quick in its delivery of the phone call (which is actually an audio clip and so best played through headphones).
With nearly all the statues there is only very basic information available about them. This project gives an alternative interpretation to traditional textual labels. I think because these are statues you do expect a certain amount of interpretive text as they tend to be based on real people, or if fictional you assume there’s a valid reason for it being in the place it is. If these were sculptures and therefore seen more as pieces of art they may be viewed differently, you may feel more open to your own interpretation.
The project takes you away from the rush of everyday life for a short period and you can focus on that moment, where you are and where the statue is. That the statues are outside (of a museum) creates a completely different perception of them. There are no boundaries or barriers- you can touch, smell or taste if you really want. You can get at close as you want, sit by it, sit on it or get a picture with it. In museums visitors may feel they have to act a certain way or know certain things. Outside is the public’s domain, it’s open and free in more ways than inside a museum. Obviously this is open to discussion as there are ‘rules’ in regards to behaviors in any public situation.
This project is a great example of an organisation trying to connect audiences with cultural objects and with audiences that museums find hard to reach. This is in line with the increasing focus in museums on their communication with the public, and trying to bring in a wider range of people. I think one great way of getting more people into the museum is through community work and this project could be a great way of doing this- by getting local people involved in creating their own stories for the statues to talk about. By doing this kind of work and by working with objects outside of the museum building, you challenge the authority of the museum and bring in new voices and opinions. I think this project could potentially have worked much better with this approach than by using known, professional writers and actors.
There is a lot of conversation about the impact of new technology on museums objects but this is a great example of how technology works with the object, bringing it to the forefront, rather than the technology. Andrea Witcomb in ‘Re-imaging the Museum’ talks about how ‘the use of technology has not entirely displaced objects in the museum but has brought into question absolute claims about their meaning’ which again falls in line with museums re-thinking their own authority and their place in society and with the community.