Podcast: Sound and vision

El Gat Del Raval (the Raval Cat), Barcelona – the work of Fernando Botero. Image: Valgui/Wikimedia Commons.

It’s very easy (or at least, it is if you’re me) to fall into the trap of seeing cities as physical things – a matter of streets and buildings and transport infrastructure.

But they’re about more than that: they’re also about the people inside them, and the things that they create.

So this week, in a break from our usual schedule, we’ve decided to get cultured. To that end, we talk to Shain Shapiro, director of the consultancy Sound Diplomacy, and founder of the Music Cities Convention. He tells us what makes a music city, and why live performance matters to city life. (You can read some of Shain’s articles for us here.)


That’s “sound”. For “vision”, we talk to festival producer and arts professional Sara Doctors, about how the people who re-built Britain’s towns after the Second World War wanted to put public art at the heart of every community – and why it never quite came off. The segment includes discussion of “Madonna’s Tits”, the local name for a pair of Thomas Heatherwicks you can find in the unlikely location of a roundabout in Barking.

(Some full disclosure here: Sara, as well as being incredibly knowledgeable about the arts, is also, er, my wife. At one point she mentions a giant cat statue in Barcelona’s the Rambla de Raval. It’s the one at the top of this page, it was designed by Colombian figurative artist by Fernando Botero, and we met him on our honeymoon.)

In our new “your city” segment we hear from Canadian listener Victoria, who tells us what she loves about Toronto, and what she’s rather less keen on. She’s on Twitter here. If you’d like to contribute to this segment in future, get in touch by email.

Last but not least, our map of the week is Katie Kowalsky’s pop art map of the world (above) on which Barbara and I have, shall we say, differing views.

If you want to subscribe to the podcast (which you obviously do), you can find us on Acast or iTunes, or put this RSS into the podcast app of your choice. Or you can find more episodes right here.

Enjoy. 

 
 
 
 

The smartphone app placing virtual statues of women on the map

A virtual Edith Wharton in Central Park, New York City. Image: The Whole Story Project.

If you’re a woman, then in order for you to be immortalised in stone, bronze or whatever once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you should either have royal blood or be willing to be sculpted naked. That is the rule of thumb.

A statue that actually celebrates a woman’s achievements is a rare sight. Writing in the New Statesman last year, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez found that out of 925 statues in Britain, as listed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, only 158 are of solo women. Of these, 46 are of royalty, including 29 of Queen Victoria. Fourteen depict the Virgin Mary.

There are signs of change, albeit slow. The suffragist Millicent Fawcett is set to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, where currently all 11 of the statues are of men. (They include Nelson Mandela and a nine-foot Gandhi.) The monument is to be unveiled next year to celebrate the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote.

Elsewhere, the late comedian Victoria Wood is being honoured with a statue that’ll be erected in Bury, Greater Manchester. In the Moss Side area of the city, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in 2019. Unlike the Fawcett one, neither of these is expected to receive public money, relying on crowdfunding and other sources instead.

So how many more statues of women, regardless of how they’re funded, would we need to build in order to reduce the gender gap? Well, according to Jonathan Jones, art critic at the Guardian, the magic number is: zero.

Jones’s argument, back in March, was that building statues doesn’t advance feminism, but simply traps us in the past. He wrote:

Statues don’t hold public memory. They politely bury it. These well-meaning images melt into the background scenery of our lives.

Whether this is empirically true is questionable, but it’s true that we tend not to erect them as often as we used to anyway. This is partly because there is less space available for such monuments – a noticeable disadvantage cities of the present have compared to those of the past. In order to reduce the imbalance, statues of men would probably have to be removed; many would no doubt be okay with that, but it would mean erasing history.

One partial answer to the problem is augmented reality. It can’t close the gender gap, but it could shine a spotlight on it.

To that end, an advertising agency in New York launched an app at the beginning of May. The Whole Story allows users to place virtual statues of women on a map; other uses can then view and find out more about the individuals depicted at their real-world locations, using their smartphone cameras.


Currently, users have to upload their own virtual statues using 3D-modelling software. But going forward, the project aims for an open collaboration between designers, developers and organisations, which it hopes will lead to more people getting involved.

Contributions submitted so far include a few dozen in New York, several in Washington and one of Jane Austen in Hyde Park. There are others in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Okay, it’s an app created by a marketing firm, but there are legitimate arguments for it. First, the agency’s chief creative office has herself said that it’s important to address the gender imbalance in a visual way in order to inspire current and future generations: you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying going.

Second, if the physical presence of statues really is diminishing and they don’t hold public memory, as Jones argues, then smartphones could bridge the gap. We live our lives through our devices, capturing, snapping and storing moments, only to forget about them but then return to and share them at a later date. These memories may melt away, but they’ll always be there, backed up to the cloud even. If smartphones can be used to capture and share the message that a gender imbalance exists then that’s arguably a positive thing.  

Third, with the success of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has shown that it can encourage us to explore public spaces and heighten our appreciation for architectural landmarks. It can also prove useful as a tool for learning about historical monuments.

Of course no app will replace statues altogether. But at the very least it could highlight the fact that women’s achievements are more than just sitting on a throne or giving birth to the son of God.

Rich McEachran tweets as @richmceachran.

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