PUTTING YOURSELF ON A PEDESTAL

Visitors strolling down the Champs Elysees this summer found it transformed into a giant sculpture park, with works by Duchamp, Miro and Dali erupting from the pavement. But the public passed them by with barely a glance, to stand transfixed before the figure of a Roman emperor whose chest appeared to rise and fall as if he were breathing and a Statue of Liberty which winked at startled bystanders.

"Living statues" have been mysteriously, surreally, appearing in Paris for two or three years. They have installed themselves on makeshift pedestals along the cafe-lined boulevards in Saint Germain-des-Pres, on the Champs Elysees, at Palais Royal and in parks, particularly the Tuileries gardens. The city now boasts two Virgin Marys, several Roman emperors, a handful of Pharaohs and a Rodin's Thinker.

Some claim the trend was started by some art students who sprayed themselves in white paint and recreated the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory in the courtyard of the Louvre. Others say the statues evolved from the automates, a kind of street theatre popular in Paris in the 1980s, in which performers would stand on a pedestal and slice their limbs through the air in robotic movements.

There is, however, nothing particularly new about the idea of living statues; Gilbert and George, grandperes terribles of British art, coined the term in 1969 when they performed one of their first happenings at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. In white shirts and old-fashioned suits, their heads and hands sprayed with metallic bronze paint, Gilbert sat on the gallery stairs while George leant on the banisters, neither moving for a full five hours. What is new is that an art gallery performance has filtered down to the streets and become an innovative form of busking.

For street performers such as Bulgarian-born law student Stephane Bontchev, being a living statue is a crucial source of income. Stephane, who leads a secret double life as Julius Caesar, claimed that at the height of the tourist season he was making up to 1,500 francs a day (about pounds 187) in Montmartre. Posing on his usual pedestal in an alcove of Sacre Coeur, Stephane admits that few of his college friends know about his weekend impersonations of a Roman statue. "The law's a pretty serious profession, and I was initially a bit embarrassed. The first time I did it I was trembling so much I could hardly hold a pose. But my make-up and spray-painted toga act as a barrier between me and the public and protect my anonymity."

Montmartre has the biggest concentration of living statues. There are rich pickings from tourists here; and, according to Farid, a 21-year-old architecture student who performs with a group of black statues (echoing bronze rather than marble), the area also makes the ideal backdrop. "Mont- martre has always been the home of French street theatre," he explains. "When people climb up here they know they'll find stilt-walkers, jugglers, fire-eaters. For us statues vivantes are just the latest development in a very long tradition."

Raquel, a 27-year-old actress who works with Farid, points out that the fascination with living statues goes back a long way: "Look at all our myths about people being turned into statues by angry gods, or statues coming to life after years of immobility."

Guillaume, another member of the group, says it's not as easy as it looks. "It's incredibly tiring standing doing nothing for hours on end - you often get cramp in your legs. We've developed our act so that when someone drops money into our tin we move into a different pose. I can't tell you how nice the sound of a coin dropping is!"

The living statue may turn out to be just a passing fad, but in the meantime people like Stephane Bontchev are making the most of it. "My only really bad experience was when some guy set fire to my toga to try and make me move. Apart from that it's a pretty good way to make a living." !

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?