Arts, Culture & Media

The Secret to Standing Still

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Charlie the human statue. Barcelona, Spain (Photo: Gerry Hadden)

By Gerry Hadden

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Doing nothing is hard work.

Ask Carlos Alejandro Gonzalez, a 41-year old Argentine who lives in Barcelona. Each morning Carlos transforms into Charlie the Human Statue, a man painted the color of copper from his dreadlock wig to his beat up boots, standing on a giant wind-up music box made of wood and plastic.

"It takes me about 40 minutes to prepare on the street," he said on a recent morning. "Then I work three or four hours. I can't take any more than that. When I'm done I'm exhausted."

Standing dead still is hard on his back, Gonzalez said, but it's not a bad living.

"On a good day at the height of tourist season, with a good costume that attracts people, I can make over 200 dollars."

It's 9 a.m. on a recent morning, and Charlie isn't in costume yet. He's drinking a tea with milk at an outdoor café. Relaxing and remembering

"Coming to Barcelona was a dream for my girlfriend and me," he said.

But suddenly he was interrupted.

Hazards of Standing Still

A very drunk homeless man teetered into his table, out of nowhere and tried to steal his tobacco, then his sunglasses and then his teacup. Finally the guy snatched an already used match from an ashtray. The waiters chase him off. Even though the incident was random, it got Gonzalez going on some of the other hazards of his craft.

"Such harassment is one of the things you have to put up with when you're working as a statue," he said. "The drunks stop right in front of you just when you've got a good crowd gathered and they harass you."

Gonzalez said he does everything he can not to acknowledge aggressors, which is the whole point of being a human statue. You're there, but you're not.

'If you don't move it creates a thick tension between you and the public," he said. Which is interesting, and strange. The people think, hey, I'm giving money, you've gotta give something. But hey, when you're a statue you have the right to stand still. That's what they're paying for, to see you frozen."

After his tea Gonzalez dragged a big black suitcase to Las Ramblas, set
up his music box, put on his costume and assumed his position. He appeared oblivious as the euros clink into his little black cup on the ground. Oblivious, as tourists posed for photos next to him, as kids pretended to throw things at him, as a dog sniffed his music box and nearly lifted its leg.

Gonzalez's music box, by the way, used to make music. People would pay, he'd crank the handle with one hand and turn on a hidden mp3 player with the other.

"You're not allowed to make noise anymore," he said, "because of the new rules. So I don't even turn the box's gears anymore. It doesn't make sense without the music."
Cracking Down on Human Statues

The city started cracking down on human statues several months ago. Officials chased away hundreds of them from Las Ramblas and other streets. Then it made them apply for a human statue license. Résumé, press clippings, recommendations, whatever they could bring. Somebody — the statues say they don't know who — picked 30 of them.

Gonzalez said there were too many human statues before, many with lame costumes and most of them not even artists. But he said Barcelona is on a larger mission to clear the city of all street artists.

"It's a shame," he said. "Las Ramblas was really a curious place, filled with magicians, musicians, statues and now when they can they'll take the statues away too."

The city says it has no plans to ban human statues altogether, but many of Gonzalez's colleagues have already left, for smaller cities like Zaragoza, or Caceres — cities that haven't really had human statues, and therefore no reason to crack down on them.