A city known for its public art, Chicago has launched with much fanfare “Statue Stories Chicago,” an initiative to bring its statuary into the digital age. For the next ten months, statues and sculptures all over the city will “talk” to visitors if they use their smartphones to scan a code or go to a particular URL. Funders and the actors hired to record the voiceovers are rapturous in their praise of the initiative’s creative multimedia approach. “It’s a really wonderful idea. Everyone has their own story about, ‘If the walls could speak.’ Here we have the statues speaking,” said one.

Some things are better left unsaid. Contemplating a statue and speculating about its subject is a privilege to be enjoyed in tranquility. A digital voice disrupts the silent speculation. Is Dorothy Gale- a challenging voice to imagine without the influence of Judy Garland- so insipid? Does Cloud Gate (“The Bean”) of Millenium Park, a giant reflective abstract work, speak through David Schwimmer? Says who?  Not the sculptor, Anish Kapoor, who has said, “Without your involvement as a viewer, there is no story.”

That a smart phone is required to hear the statues, rather than pressing a button to play a recording, adds insult to injury. We are already buried in our devices; why require them to appreciate a piece of public art? This gimmick, while it may well result in more visitors to the statues, robs us of the liberty to imagine. To be sure, we are free not to tune in, but the digital allure is hard to resist.

My view of the project softened when I read last week of a contest open to teens to submit an imagined monologue for “The Fountain Girl,” a statue in Lincoln Park that was originally commissioned by the Women’s Temperance League. Incentivizing children ages 12-18 to give voice to the statue of a child through creative writing is a prime example of how art can inspire imagination.

I was so taken by the idea that I regretted that my own daughter was too young to enter the contest. Then I thought of her voice, beautiful to my ears but alien to others. Does the world want to hear it as the definitive voice of The Fountain Girl, any more than I want to hear Ross as the voice of The Bean? I don’t think so.

The one-way ratchet of the TPP

by John Quiggin on October 6, 2015

Also, maybe of interest, this piece on the recently announced (but still secret) Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Bitcoin, a waste of energy

by John Quiggin on October 6, 2015

I have a piece up on ABC (~ UK BBC, not US ABC) discussion blog The Drum, making the point that most of the market value of a Bitcoin reflects the electricity wasted in the calculations needed to “mine” it, with the obvious disastrous implications for the global climate. Unsurprisingly, it’s provoked some vociferous, if mostly incoherent, responses from Bitcoin fans. Hoping to use the heat energy arising for some useful purpose.