The Living Statue Company – Living Statue Resource Page
At The Living Statue Company we consider what we do as a form of art; real living sculpture that comes to life to interact with the viewer. This page is designed to help people understand the art of the Living Statue and appreciate its complexities.
It can be used as a guide for those aspiring to become a Living Statue or simply as an explanation to the curious. It does not give away our secrets and is not intended as an instruction manual – simply enjoy it as a guide into our world.
Hopefully it can enlighten those who walk the streets with their heads down ignoring the beauty around them. Perhaps next time they will glance up and have a closer look at that old statue – you never know, it might even look back.
The History of Living Statues as Street Entertainment
The history of Living Statues is hard to nail down - they've been a form of entertainment for at least a hundred years and probably a lot more. Originally a form of circus sideshow the impresario and showman PT Barnum was known to have displayed Living Statues as part of his repertoire of performance curiosities in the 1840s.
They can be partly linked to Tableau Vivant performance, essentially performers holding static poses on stage to recreate famous paintings or sculptures.
Tableaux Vivant, however, isn't really what we would consider modern living statue performance to be. It was used as a way of evading theatre censorship to display nudity on stage, most notably at London's Windmill Theatre in the 1930's and 40's. The theatre managers argued that the "no nudity on stage" rules of the time were impractical. They pointed out that nobody could be offended by the display of a nude statue as a work of art and under the maxim of "If you move, it's rude" went on to display nude girls holding static poses on stage to sell out houses..
Living Statues have regularly been a feature of performance art installations – notably by Gilbert and George in the 1960s. An interesting artistic novelty these performances were strictly contained within the four walls of the gallery to be viewed by art lovers.
Little is known about the origins of Living Statue performance as a form of street entertainment. They began to appear en masse on the avenues of Europe at some point in the late Twentieth Century and their presence soon spread to the four corners of the globe. One of the most famous early statue performers was Dublin's Dice Man in the 1980's and 90's. An incredible character and pioneer of the art form the police tried numerous times to move him from his pitch as his crowds were blocking the street - he found a solution in developing an ingenious imperceptibly-slow-walking performance that ensured his crowds could stand and watch whilst he essentially kept moving on (albeit a yard and hour).
Today they can be found in most major towns and cities stoically standing still to the delight and bemusement of the general public. Varying in quality and professionalism they can be a divisive form of entertainment loved by some and loathed by others.
A study of Living Statues can also be a study of those that watch them: whilst some are drawn to their performance, others are terrified. Some see beauty whilst others see an object for derision. Rarely have there been forms of art that have drawn such extreme reactions, good and bad, from members of the public – and all from standing still in silence.
With an increasing number of statue performers taking to the streets it is obvious that they are here to stay. An inconvenient truth about street performance is that if the performer isn’t wanted he doesn’t get paid and so it is clear that for the time being enough people are happy to pay the world’s living statues to stand and deliver.
How do you Learn to be a Living Statue?
The best way to learn to be a Living Statue is to make yourself a costume and go out onto the street and busk!
Performing as a street entertainer is really the best training any living statue artist could hope to receive. To live by your art knowing that a bad performance or costume will lead to a bad day’s pay teaches you very quickly to hone your skills and improve your act. Understanding the energies of crowds and learning interaction with different people of different ages and backgrounds helps you become a skilled performer able to deal with any situation or occasion.
The Living Statue Company’s artists are all formally trained in the performing arts; in general it helps to have some dance or drama training but it is not essential. Many of the world’s finest street performers have simply learned ‘on the job’. It is the perfect training ground - learning either through your own mistakes or by observing your fellow performers.
All of The Living Statue Company’s performers have spent years as street statues in London’s Covent Garden. As Europe’s Mecca for street performers only the finest buskers succeed and it is no easy task.
Performing as a Living Statue
It really is a lot harder than it looks. Standing still for anything longer than fifteen minutes can cause some significant pain in the joints, the back and the feet. A professional Living Statue would think nothing of standing still for two hours or more which takes a great deal of concentration and physical control.
A performer will take time to slowly control their breathing. Over time it becomes shallow and almost imperceptible – creating the illusion of absolute stillness. Soon the whole body becomes still without a flicker or a twitch. And then a gust of wind arrives and spoils it for everybody.
A lot of performers have likened the experience to meditation. On some days hours can pass like minutes as the artist enters a sort of trance whilst performing for their crowds. The stillness can be hypnotic for audiences as well as performers – it’s not unusual to have members of the public stand for thirty minutes or more watching intently before snapping out of it to realise they’re late for an appointment.
But stillness is really just a fraction of a Living Statue’s performance. The key factor is what happens when he or she does move. Dynamic and impressive moves that wow an audience create a much more exciting and entertaining piece of performance than a simple static figure. By paying particular attention to high quality movement a performer can really explore the art form and gain some great reactions from audiences.
Successful statues are the ones that have something unique to offer. A performer should always think from an audience’s point-of-view. They’ve no doubt seen dozens of living statue performers and are expecting yours to be exactly the same so why should they stop and watch you? You have to think of something new and surprising – you need a gimmick that stands your performance out from the crowd. Once you’ve found a unique and entertaining hook you’re on your way but it’s not easy and not every idea works straight away.
Watch some of The Living Statue Company’s incredible moves on our Living Statue Video Page.
The Living Statue Company
The Living Statue Company came about in 2007 when Covent Garden performers Ed Johnson and Kate Lauridsen set out to create a new type of professional statue performance company.
We aim to redefine people’s perceptions of living statues – to build recognition of it as a genuine and powerful art form that can both entertain and inspire. By thinking of each new character as an artistic commission we aim to create living, breathing sculpture in which each element – costume, makeup, performance – is perfected to create stunning entertainment.
We specialise in costume-based living statues. There are a number of excellent statue companies in the world who use amazing body-paint techniques but we prefer to concentrate on authentic looking costumed characters that would not look out of place on a stone plinth in a park or a town centre.
Providing living statues for corporate events, weddings and parties is our forte – we make new commissioned living sculpture in our workshop in South East England and have performed around the world for such clients as: Virgin Atlantic, 20th Century Fox, Panasonic, Bacardi, Toyota, London 2012 and many more.
Costume and Makeup
At The Living Statue Company all our costumes are made in-house and we can spend weeks perfecting each new character. We’ll try dozens of types and shades of paint to get the perfect look and we find more ways discovering how not to do it than how to get it just right.
We really like to get a ‘weathered’ look to our costumes. Each type of statue – bronze, silver, marble, light stone, dark stone etc. – has its own complications and requires its own types of makeup and paint. It’s an on-going process and we’re always revisiting costumes to find ways to improve our work.
It can take up to three hours for a performer to get ready – carefully painting on layers of makeup, applying prosthetics and arranging costumes to get the perfect look. The more realistic the statue, the more impressive the reaction – we aim for total realism to keep our audiences guessing.
Living Statues in Film
There are a number of notable Living Statue performances on the silver screen including: La Belle et La Bette (1946), The Devil's Advocate (1997), Amelie (2001), The Phantom of the Opera (2004), EuroTrip (2004), The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse (2005) and Hot Fuzz (2007).
Get Inspired – Living Statue Links
As well as The Living Statue Company’s great site you can find a number of inspiring places on the internet full of great Living Statue information and pictures:
World Statue Festival - held in Arnhem, Holland, every year this is an amazing get together for over 100 professional Living Statues from around the world. Their website features some amazing photographs from previous years. Well worth a visit for professionals and the curious sightseer.
Thom McGinty - More information about Dublin's famous Dice Man, living statue pioneer.
Flickr Living Statue Group - a collection of Living Statue images from around the world. An amazing variety of costumes and performers taken by photographers all over the planet.
Anything to Add?
If you know anything about the history of Living Statues and would like to contribute some information to be added above please Contact Us, we'd love to hear from you.
Ed Johnson, The Living Statue Company, updated January 2013.