I am artist, walker, art curator and cultural manager; co-founder and director of Nau Côclea and Grand Tour. I serve as an Associate Lecturer of the Master’s Degree in Cultural Management at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. For 15 years, I also co-directed the educational project Shantidhara Pillalu in Chimallapali, Andhra Pradesh, India. I regularly collaborate with several international journals on issues of art and community, art and education and new artistic behaviours.
FIELDWORK Q&A – July 2020
What interests you about fieldwork in artistic and/or geographic practice?
The experiential potential for Walking Art, relational geographies, walking communities, derives, soundscapes and soundart.
How is fieldwork part of your research and/or work?
Fieldwork is part of the activities of Nau Côclea, an independent art and creation center; also Grand Tour, a program of walking art.
How would you describe your fieldwork activity?
Grand Tour is a trek in Catalonia, Spain of about 200km, crossing some of the most beautiful landscapes of the northwest of Catalonia, and the pyrenaic regions of Montsec and Pallars. Travelling on foot is a synchrony between body and mind, a simple but intense way to be with things and people in this world.
Grand Tour, 2015 – ongoing
Grand Tour is an art project by the Nau Côclea Contemporary Art Center in Camallera, (Catalunya, Spain) where I work. It consists of a 250-kilometer walk taken by people and artists of all kinds: musicians, storytellers, visual and live artists, dancers, writers and poets. The walk starts on a summer day and ends about three weeks later. Every day the group walks 15 to 25 km, along with an artist, or a group of artists, who have prepared something for them. The path traces a spiral route through the region, crossing urban and rural areas, natural landscapes, and seaside and mountain trails. Both during the walk, and at stops, the artists perform and present their artistic interventions (poetry, dance, installations), day and night.
The trip is open to the public and offered in every possible format: participants can walk every day, or for just two or three days, or they can simply show up at a meeting point and enjoy the performance. Walkers can start or stop their journey at any time, and adapt their trips to their personal plans. Grand Tour is a project for all types of audiences: families with children and solo travellers, old and young, experienced walkers and beginners.
Contemporary tourism can be disappointing, and leave the traveller feeling impoverished. It seems that the farther we go, the more we encounter the same globalized culture and environment. But travelling will always be an art, and good travellers still know they can exercise their perception regardless of whether the distances are short or long. They know, for example, that they can discover a universe in an intense and deeply experiential way by walking. We each can make a real personal trip of artistic discovery. And that’s why the original XIX century Grand Tour is still alive. This mix of individual freedom, personal affinities and cultural heritage is the original departing point and what inspired us to name our project after the historic Grand Tour. Travel and touring make us see the world from the outside, and to go back to our inner world. Inevitably, we contrast the places and arts we encounter with our common daily realities, and observe ourselves anew. But, to allow these experiences to unfold we need time, and we also need to spend it having genuine experiences, which belong to the inner territory of each individual and each group.
Unpredictability and atemporality:
Unpredictability and surprise play an important role in this process. It is one thing to go to a place where you expect to see something. But it is something else, more exhilarating, to explore space and time, ready for some wonder to happen any second. Let’s look at an example: one day during the first Grand Tour trip we were supposed to meet artist Job Ramos1. He was scheduled to perform when we passed through his village, but we were not very sure about it because he had not shown up or phoned in a couple of days. The guide informed the travellers that Job might appear at any moment, but that it was not known exactly when. This information had surprising effects. Suddenly, for the group, everyone became ‘Job Ramos’. Their attention became extremely sharpened, and a whole range off objects, movements, colours, and even people became either artworks, or clues left by the artist for the group. It could be a rag in the wind, an indecipherable road signal, some stones arranged on the way, a coloured bed sheet hanging from a window, a boy waving while riding a bicycle… everything in the apparently normal reality of the walk became very rich, very intense, meaningful, and Job Ramos – who we finally met at the end of the day – seemed to infuse all of it.
Another characteristic feature of the Grand Tour is the creation of a process in which time ceases to exist. Every walker has experienced this. In the process of walking, time and space disappear and merge in the body. The rhythm of the walk, the presence of the place and the effort of the body replace one’s usual gauges of time and space. At the same time, the walker begins to develop an inner-outer perception without clear borders between themselves and the surrounding world. This is particularly evident after three or four days of walking, and it is a very propitious situation for art and creation.
There is more: when artists and audiences do everything together (walk, eat, get tired, rest…), creation becomes a part of daily life, and the boundaries that separate artists from the public are completely blurred. A community that shares a path for a few days is neither a group of artists nor an audience, but something halfway in between. It is a nomadic caravan that has the power to transform the behaviour of all its participants. When all the members of a group commit to the same experience, the group transforms, becoming a provisional but solid society able to create and to produce art.
Transformation of the Artwork:
In fact, it is not just artists and audiences that change. Artworks also have to go through profound changes when performed in a walking art context, and this is very good for traditional forms of art: the concert, the play, the recital, the exhibition. All these formats merit some revision and innovation. Of course, traditional artworks can be shown outside of theatres and auditoriums, being performed in unusual and beautiful natural spaces. But the possibilities of walking art can go even further when the project is specifically and intentionally conceived as itinerant.
Concerning the visual arts, we began to imagine site-specific presentations, taking art to different locations outside the showroom. This required a walk by the visitors, a form of displacement. This was what we were seeking. We suspected that the act of going to the artwork had the power to transform the people’s approach to it. In this regard we had some clues in the work of artists such as Alícia Casadesús2 and Perejaume3 who work in nature and who regularly lead people to the places where they want the work to be discovered. Some walking practices, like those of Deriva Mussol4, or Francis Alÿs, or the more communitarian approach of Walking Women5, point in the same direction.
Deriva Mussol performed Looking for the Stage for the Grand Tour 2015. They proposed a group walk in silence, letting participants be surprised by the scenarios and scenes provided by reality and each individual’s imagination. Careful and attentive observation is the door to dialogue with our memory, experiences, sensations and sense of surprise. What’s new in what we think we know? What hides behind the daily life of our streets?
Also, in Grand Tour 2017, the duo of El Jo i l’Altre6 performed a walking artistic creation whose starting point was the Sanctuary of Nuria in the High Pyrenees. The two artists performed a ritual by the lake, pouring milk over a pyramid of sugar until its total dissolution. After doing this, small bottles of the leftover milk were filled and entrusted to travellers, in order to be transported along the journey and poured, on the last day, on the sacred mountain of Montserrat (which has the same shape as the small sugar mountain dissolved on the first day). The initial performance happened to fall on the same day and exactly at the same time as the terrorist attack in Barcelona, on August 17th, 2017. The last was performed on September 3rd.
Sound Art and Soundscapes:
Sound Art is another important source of our walking art experiences. As soundscape is one of the most important activities of the Nau Côclea Contemporary Art Center, and a regular practice of many of our art residents, we are very interested in integrating it into our Grand Tour experiences.
We view soundscapes as defined by Murray Schaffer7. We all are always open to sound, our ears never close, not even when sleeping – but this is precisely why we often disconnect our ears from our minds. Auditory sensitivity is the result of a practice that opens us up to our surroundings. It comes after a long practice of consciousness and presence. The sound landscape is not just that of the sounds of nature; of water, birds and wind. It is also that of machines, roads, sounds of words, and with the beauty of accents and interjections.
In Grand Tour 2016, musician and sound artist Josep Manuel Berenguer recorded a water sound guide to help the walkers to hear the nuances and small differences between the sounds of the torrent flowing down the mountains8. What they listened to and what they heard depended on the sound wave frequencies and their expansion in the air. At the end of the circuit people walked far from the spring and, in deep silence, approached the musician, awaiting them with his guitar.
Nomads and Locals:
While walking we are, more than ever, guests: of landscapes, of community structures, of cultural heritage, of ecosystems. But, most of all, guests of all the people who live, work and love the place where we walk. And we assign much importance to it. We like to be received, guided or hosted by the local people, not only artists, but also farmers, youngsters, collectors and archivists, dynamic associations, environmentalists, women’s groups, historians, choirs, children. They are proud to show to us what they do and what they are. Our arrival may mean something to them too. Sometimes it is an opportunity for insight, and to find what is most worthy to show, or most valuable to preserve, or most beloved by all of them.
Saxophone player, free improviser and music teacher Miquel Àngel Marin9 comes from a very small village of fishermen and farmers on the Ebro River Delta. He grew up playing with toads and crabs along the small irrigation canals in the rural paddy fields. Now, together with the college students of his village La Cava, and in collaboration with the agricultural community, he is recovering the old, forgotten names of those small canals, reinstalling poles with the old ones. The work is being done right now, and we will see the results in August 2019, going to each and every one of these canals, to rename them and to dance, pronouncing and singing the names of the small canals.
Grand Tour Walking Art Grant:
When budgets have allowed, we have given a Walking Art Grant to an artistic project specifically designed to be implemented for Grand Tour travel. It consisted of €1,000, plus an art residency at the Nau Côclea Art Center (1 month), and the expenses related to the travel itself. Two artists have claimed the Grand Tour Grant to date.
Romanian artist Paula Onet won the grant in 2016 with the project Holy Blisters10, a documentary film about Peter and how he deals with his disease, Restless Legs Syndrome. As Onet says “Because of his RLS, he can’t sleep, so he walks. He has to. His ultimate wish is to lead a normal, stable life but he can’t if he doesn’t sleep, and he can’t if he walks, either. He discovered he can bless his curse by doing pilgrim routes, but being on the road all the time sabotaged his romantic relationship.”
Monique Besten received the grant in 2017 to develop the Walking a Grand Tour project11, an 18-day virtual solo wallk from Queralbs to the Montserrat mountains, to be repeated in August/September in the company of many people. Monique travelled virtually via the Web, during her residence at the Nau Côclea Art Center. She also planted the seeds of some trees there. Some months later she walked the same route, transported the small trees, and planted them in places along the way. The account of her trip combines virtual and physical walking, and can be read in her blog.
So many other artists deserve a grant, as there are so many of them doing such wonderful things all around the world. Unfortunately, the meagre funding of culture in our country has temporarily suspended the grant for the last two years. We are looking for an international sponsor to resume it.
Present and future:
The project started in 2015 and has continued since. Every year we add a line to the tracing of a spiral route in the territory. The first voyage began from the Nau Côclea Contemporary Art Center and toured various regions of Catalunya, ending in Sant Feliu, in the south of the Costa Brava. In 2020 we will go from Tarrega in the region of Lleida to Farrera in the Pyrenees.
For this summer a small group has already formed, from the former trips, and will act as the core of the event and inspire new walkers. They have a Facebook group called “Gran Tour, Participants Caminants”. On August 13, we will leave from l’Ampolla, a small village by the sea in the Ebro River Delta, and walk for three weeks, to Torrebesses. We will travel about 250 km, through and by mountains, industrial zones, rivers, cities, and farmlands, together with musicians, poets, live artists, performers, and visual artists. Thus, we will be a nomadic art brotherhood and sisterhood in search of our own Grand Tour, of a collective inner path towards creativity and joy.
1 Job Ramos is a catalan artist. His research has to do with identity and indentitary transfers, boundaries between fiction and reality, mental and physical landscapes (link).
2 Catalan artist Alicia Casadesús might be labelled as a land artist but her work goes beyond any classification. Her early work Llauró performed 20 years ago is still inspiring artists and researchers (link).
3 Perejaume is a catalan conceptual visual artist and writer. Nature, time and popular traditions are his main inspiration sources (link).
4 Deriva Mussol is an interdisciplinary group led by catalan artists Eva Marichalar Freixa and Jordi Lafon. They perform walking practices with artistic, anthropological and educational goals (link). Grand Tour 2015 Looking For the Stage (link).
5 Walking Women is a group of activist and artist women (link).
6 El Jo i l’Altre is the artistic name of Pep Aymerrich and Jordi Esteban. Both are sculptors and performing artists. Their art is near to ritual, nature and body (link).
7 Murray Schaeffer (link).
8 Jose Manuel Berenguer is a sound artist (link).
9 Miquel Àngel Marin (link).
10 Holy Blisters (link).
11 Walking a Grand Tour was a double journey done first by internet navigation, and after by walking the same trajectory (link).
Grand Tour (2015-19)