living statue living statue Yuval Cohen as "Grandma," a living statue of an old woman, in last year's Rehovot International Live Statues Festival. (Photo: Courtesy of Yuval Cohen)

Meet a man who gets paid to stand still

Israeli street artist Yuval Cohen has been performing as a living statue for the past six years.

Have you ever walked down a busy city street past a statue, only to have the eerie feeling that someone is watching you?

That statue you passed may be a person. "Living statues," street artists who dress up and pretend to be statues (often for tips), are a popular form of performance art around the world.

To find out what it's like to be one, we sat down with Israeli actor Yuval Cohen, who has been performing as a living statue throughout Europe for the last six years.

living statueYuval and Emilia Cohen pose on the Leonardo Art Hotel's roof in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo: Courtesy of Yuval Cohen)

Cohen graduated from Israel's Nissan Nativ acting studio in 1999, and he's been performing ever since. In 2005, he started a clown street show with a friend, "And then I got the 'street virus,'" Cohen told From The Grapevine. He started coming up with acting performances designed specifically for the street.

In 2010, he and his wife, Emilia, participated in the first Rehovot International Live Statues Festival, a now-annual festival in the central Israeli town of Rehovot that features artists from around the world. Cohen wore a costume made by an artist from Spain, and he had a pretty good time of it. In 2011, he came back with a costume he made himself of an armchair that comes to life. He won first place and has since been invited to living statue festivals around Europe.

Cohen likes being a living statue because "you are very close to your audience," he said. He also likes that, like other street art, living statues are creations that can be shared with many people – anybody walking by. People hug him, compliment him and even kiss him with full makeup on.

The job is difficult. Living statues stand still for hours, only to make a small movement and surprise a crowd. Cohen says it's an art that people learn by doing, although it helps to get advice from an experienced performer. His years as an actor, improv artist and street performer helped a lot.

Israeli living statue performers often know one another, and Cohen is getting to know the larger European living statue community as well.

"Every time I come to a festival, I know the people better," he said.

In the Ted Talk video below, street performer Amanda Palmer examines the relationship between artist and fan:

Living statues may give off a modern, edgy vibe, but they actually have long history. "Tableau vivant," living statue groups, were popular in medieval festivals that were often frequented by royalty. Festival organizers would put up elaborate stands and have performers pose in sight of processions.

The modern street living statues seem to have become more common in the 20th century, and they're now a regular feature at hot tourist spots, from busy streets to city parks.

"The mask lets you come closer to people you don't know, act with them and have intimate moments with them," Cohen told us. "For me, every time I make a small child interested in me and not afraid – this is the best."

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