Vilnius

Statues that speak

09 Feb 2017

The Lithuanian capital has quite a collection of statues – figures in metal and stone in a clashing array of styles that reflect the past decades’ changing political passions or, more recently, the strange cultural quirks of the artists themselves.

Now they can talk. Fifteen sculptures dotted in and around the Old Town can call you up on your phone for a chat. The personages will tell you who they are, about things that interest them, what happened to them while they were alive and the places where they now find themselves. Inspired by similar projects in other cities, the Modern Art Centre has animated these stiff effigies and bulky busts with texts and voices by some of Lithuania’s most prominent writers and performers.

Simply walk up to a statue, connect to the internet on your smartphone, go to the website indicated and swipe your phone on the nearby tag. Choose the language and you’ll get an incoming call. It might be zany American singer Frank Zappa on the line if you’re standing next to his statuette at K.Kalinausko Street 1, or mighty medieval Grand Duke Gediminas if you’re in his shadow on Cathedral Square. Or it might be 20th century French writer Romain Gary calling you up, if you’re by the statue on the corner of Mindaugo and J.Basanavičiaus showing him as a boy planning to eat one of his shoes in an attempt to impress the girl next door.

The callers often speak in thick local accents, with overzealous enthusiasm, and leave listeners none the wiser about their lives. Beside her unsightly statue on Vokiečių, Barbora Radvilaitė speaks a bit about her secret marriage to a Polish king. But all the visionary architect Laurynas Stuoka-Gucevičius seems to talk about, from his comically threatening statue on the street named after him, is how long his name is, barely mentioning the beautiful buildings he designed.

Other stories are just dreamed up. By the bridge to Užupis, a mermaid says she is afraid of water and was carried to this place by a flood, where she enjoys chatting to newlyweds and passers-by and begs the listener to stay with her a while longer. Meanwhile, the Užupis Angel, in a slow, deep whisper like Serge Gainsbourg, says he “turns on magical forces in the sky, like the rain”.

For more on how it works and to download a map showing where in Vilnius the talking sculptures are, go to www.mmcentras.lt.

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