Getting the idea for Talking Statues
Interview with David Peter Fox
How would you describe a creative development of the project Talking Statues?
To understand the creative development of Talking Statues, the best picture I can give is trying to get water to a village from a lake and if you imagine a village is up on a mountain you have a problem. You have to get a water up into the mountain, and I feel in the same way with Talking Statues. (...) One day I was on the internet (...) I saw something that again made the creativity work and made me start finding solutions for how to get the water up to the village from this lake what was my first picture of the problem and when I say so the water would be a symbol of the history of the statue and the village that had need for the water will be people's interest. So my big obstacle was, I knew the history was there. There were good stories behind that statues and I knew the people in the village would be interested in listening to the stories if they would be delivered in the right way, so the same way water works for the village, they would want to have the water, because everyone wants water, but what I needed was to find a way to get the water up there, with the statues my problem was that I needed to get people to go close and get connected with the statues. .
Why the statues are so important to you? For example, why did you decide to let exactly the statues talk?
In my opinion, all statues they have a lot of history, they are very interesting. One thing is that they all reflect a part of our history, a time, but many of them are also historical persons like Beethoven or Shakespeare, and so both have a story in itself, the time they reflect. You have a person in that time and then you have an artist who made a statue as a reflection on the person and at the same time you have a visualisation of the person in the sense that it has been used a lot of energy to create a face, body and how it has been done and what kind of symbols have been used and so on. So every statue standing everywhere in a city or in a country or wherever you pass it has a huge amount of story and since they all are very lifelike it was obvious I thought to make these characters or statues a greater part of our daily life in the sense as you see them now they are just standing, but I would like to make them a greater part, because they are all containing so much history and so much knowledge, and I think it is important also why they were put there and also who they are. If you go by you might pass a statue, maybe it has been erected 200 years ago and today people won't know why it was put there. So there are many good reasons why statues should come alive and be part of our present life.
What are the main obstacles you have faced during the project? How did you solve them?
I had a difficulty in getting people to show interest for statues. The problem was I knew there was a good story, I had to get a story out. I had to find in my mind how to make the statues talk. (...) Also I had a problem to get a finance for the project. I applied for some money and I got an equivalent of 80 000 DKK from the City of Copenhagen, which is not too much actually taking into consideration all the work we should go through. First they said there was no money, but later the application was discussed by the politicians and finally I got some money. I hoped to get more money, but I didn't get any more money. I applied for money at all institutions in Denmark and all the funds and foundations, and I didn't get anything at all. So, I ended up with my 80 000 DKK. I started my work and the first thing was to develop the app. It was very expensive. We had to pay, I think, 50 000 DKK and then I still would have to make pictures, do research, to get the history of the statues, we still would have to write the monologues, we had to get the actors, studio etc., but as I have my own company True Stories, I am also using some of my own savings and income on developing idea. Also the writing of the monologues needed to be thought though. What would a statue say if it call talk? How would it talk? We spend some time on this, some thing would work, others not. Overall the idea for the statue talking in a prerecorded voice over worked at once, but we needed to adjust and find out what the length should be, and how the statue would address the public - the by-passers.
My idea wasn't to try to make money on this. I was hoping I will get paid for what I was doing but I didn't. Actually, I spend a lot of money maybe 4 - 5 times the amount I got from the City of Copenhagen to make this project possible, because money that I got from the city was just about enough to perform the work and to make a technical side of it, but after that you have to record all monologue, recordings etc. Peter Heede from Adaptor Dubbing in Copenhagen was a great help finding good actors. We use only one actor for all the statue voices because of the economy, but it worked very well anyway.
How would you describe a technical development of the project?
The idea was at the beginning that the system should work on GPS which means as soon as you got close to the statues, you would catch the voice, but it turned out to be too expensive and we were almost finished developing this app and then the company which was going to make it, they couldn't do it for the money we could offer. They were very interested in doing it, but the hours were too many and a pay was too low so we had to stop the project and then suddenly I got an email from a guy called Jesper and he worked at a company called Scanbuy developing QR codes and also the system that can read QR codes, and he said to me why don't you do this with QR code instead? So, I had a meeting with Jesper Stuhr from Scanbuy. He offered to do this QR code system and make a mobile app which is much cheaper for only 45.000 DKK, which was very good for me, because then I would still have some money left for developing the rest of the project. So this was something that would be very easy to use and it worked very well. The other advantage was you could use two languages, you could program the QR code so it would read what kind of language you have on your telephone and it would play the message in that language. You could do all kind of statistics, see who is using QR codes etc. And now the project was reaching. It seemed that the water had not only been brought to the village, but it had been brought in a smart way. The project has to find new passages to get the water up the mountain, but finally we had success.
After the project was launched in Copenhagen in 2013, did you work on project's development and its geographical expansion? If yes, how did it go?
Well, we wanted to expand and we wanted to make it international. That was the aim of the project. We chose the international name, Talking Statues, we also bought www.talkingstatues.com, also Twitter address www.twitter.com/talkingstatues and we also wanted to register it as a trade mark to work around the world. The project started in September 2013 in Copenhagen as the first Talking Statues project in the world. There had never been made anything similar before. After the project started, in November 2013, we were called by Helsinki. They wanted to do the same project and we were called by London, Sing London, who wanted also to do the same project. Sing London has sent us an e-mail address, it was Colette Heller, the director of Sing London who have asked to talk.
I thought we were going to work together in London to do the project, but as I spoke to her, she asked me a lot of questions. It seemed that she didn't really wanted us to be a part of the project. She wanted to do the project on her own, and then I was a little discouraged. I said that it wasn't so nice, because we made the project etc. and I said them in this case don't use our identity Talking Statues.
Later we have been contacted on Twitter asking why don't we come to Chicago to do the project, and we did. So we started to do initial work finding out which statues should we make etc. We had everything ready and we called up Chicago Park District and they said that Sing London is already there. After we explained the situation, they said that we have to talk with Sing London and make an agreement. They where very fair and straight at Chicago Park District. So we talked to Kelly O' Brian and Sing London, and we made an agreement that they are going to pay us royalty or they will make an agreement that they will be partners. Everything seemed to be working in the right direction. Sing London ackkonwed we made it first and wrote
19th of may 2015, Kelly O'Reilly wrote:
"A companion version of Talking Statues is also available in Copenhagen. Produced by True Stories Aps, it broke new ground when it launched in September 2013 by using augmented reality to bring new life to old statues"
"We will ensure that our Talking Statues website reflects that Copenhagen was the first city to host a Talking Statues project and that this was undertaken by True Stories ApS. We will do this by providing a tab on the site (which has few tabs and no branding) entirely devoted to your Copenhagen project".
We prepared a contract and when we came with it, Sing London said that they didn't have a time to look at it, so we offered a letter of intent saying what do they intend to do etc. So we rushed to make the letter of intent - it was just ready for their board meeting, and then their layer suddently said to me that they will have something to laugh about at the meeting. It wasn't nice, but we wanted to stay positive, so we waited for an answer.
Next day they said that they give us 2 possibilities. At his time Chicago Park District had pushed Sing London to resolve otherwise they would force Sing London to Change the name in respect for the original Danish project. Now Sing London called us and made an ultimatum: Either we let them use the name Talking Statues in Chicago or we don't let them to use a name and if we don't let them to use a name, they will never work with us again.
I told them that of course they can use the name, but we need to have something in writing, so we have some kind of guarantee of the promised agreement, but then they said if we don't agree with a first option, they regard it as a negative answer.
They informed us that they are planning to change a name in Chicago, because the authorities told them to do and they will never ever work with us again. I have never experienced this situation before, because we never said no. They turned it all around and we were pushed out of the agreement which we were offered and they didn't credit us for the project as promised.
Afterwards we were called up by San Diego, so we went to make a project there and we became the first in USA to do Talking Statues. We also started to register a trade mark, but it turned out Sing London have already registered a trademark Talking Statues, which we told them not to do, because that was our identity but they had a good lawyer who copy write a trademark all over the world. It was really disturbing because I got an idea for the project and suddenly I felt that I had to ask for permission from London to do my own project. But now we are working. We are getting help from the a Foreign Ministry and we are hoping to succeed. We are going to work in Russia and in Europe and also in USA again.
The project was developed 2 years ago, do you think the technology which is used in this project is still up to date or there is a need to modernize it? If yes, in which way?
I see a lot of possibilities in the project still, but the problem is financing. What I see happening now is that everybody think that it is fantastic that the statues are talking, they like talking statues, so what's happening now is that it is going from city to city and people are experiencing it for the first time. Usually they are only done maybe 20 - 30 statues and people are very excited about that, but in order to get the project on the higher level, I could see that the statues in the future will start moving, will start talking. I think talking the audio track is only the beginning. In my opinion, in the future we will be able to see the statues talking, looking at us, turning their heads when we go by and they will say: 'Hey, do you want to listen to my story'? So, I think, this is only the beginning, but, I think, that possibilities are endless.
How do you see a future of this project?
When I made this project I was interviewed on the radio station in Copenhagen called 24/7 and they said how do you see a future of this project and I said that in the future we will be living along side with history. It means that we will see animals that have died 100 years ago. They will be living along side with us. I think, concerning talking statues the personalities of the statues like Lincoln, like Winston Churchill, H. C. Andersen. I think, they will be brought to life in the future and the story Talking Statues is a start, an appetizer to what we will be waiting in the future.
I don't mean that will dig up Churchill I don't mean we will dig up H.C. Andersen, but what I think is that in the future the development of the technology will be able to perfectly impersonate people based on knowledge, based on dimensions we don't know yet, so it will be possible to have a complete dialog with H. C. Andersen, not something what has been impersonated, but something that is like a computer when you play chess with it. You will be able to make thousands of moves and in the future it will be possible based on its knowledge. It will be able to develop answers by itself, just based on all the information that is in the computer.
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