The art of walking is not a Fine Art; nor is it a sport. It is not like painting or music or dancing. But neither is it like Nordic walking or trekking. In actual fact, the art of walking is more related to the art of living and the art of travelling. The art of walking is one way – not the only way – but a very privileged way to belong to the landscape.
The word landscape harbours within it one of the densest and most history-laden concepts I know. Landscape, which implies both place and perception of place, can weigh like a millstone on our vocabulary, but it can also be like a nimble kaleidoscope.
Landscape is generally understood as "that which is outside of us" that offers itself to our gaze. In this paradigm, we talk about landscape as if it were something that belongs to us, in a manner that is symmetrically inverse to what happens when we talk about country, which suggests something that we belong to. We appreciate, we design and we protect the landscape, and, more than any other sense, we do this with our sight. To observe, describe, or even defend the landscape implies a dissociation from reality that labels us more as nature prescribers than as a part of it. And that's some complicated baggage.
However, there are cases where the landscape is experienced differently, beyond this prescribing tradition. The art of walking is one of them. As an art, it is really a shortcut to escape from Art. As a path, it is a way to belong to the landscape.
Walking is one of the first things we learn in life. Although there are travellers who knew this centuries ago, many decades of motor-powered travel have had to pass before we started to understand the value of travelling on foot, with its physical, emotional, community and creative possibilities. Now that we no longer have to travel on foot of necessity, we have learned that it is an irreplaceable experience. By walking, we transform our body, the flow of sensory perceptions and thoughts, and also our relationship with our environment and with other people.
This is what the Grand Tour project seeks to activate, an experiment whose goal is to expand the limits of the Arts and take them closer to individuals and communities. It is a journey on foot, over about 300 kilometres, which takes three weeks to complete, and each year it is proposed to both artists and to other people who do not consider themselves to be artists. Artists from all disciplines are invited to show, present or propose their creations ephemerally or, even better, while travelling on the journey. In the act of walking, Grand Tour unfolds all that visual artists, poets, musicians, choreographers and many other people contribute with their commitment and their skills. All of this in a specific place, a specific geography, which is walked. For the last eight years, Grand Tour travels through Catalonia, drawing a spiral, and which each year starts where it finished the year before. This 2022 Grand Tour will start from the village of Bausen in Val d’Aran on 12 August.*
Obviously, Grand Tour is not the only experience centred on walking. Researchers, artists, activists, health experts, landscapers, architects, scientists and geographers around the world are working – and playing – in this direction: after the pandemic, research on walking as a tool for growth, knowledge, communication and health has grown exponentially.
I am writing this from Guimaraês, Portugal, where I am taking part in the "The Walking Body" meetings, which have brought together students and researchers to discuss walking. And it won't be the last opportunity. We are preparing the International Walking Art and Relational Geographies Encounters, which will take place in Girona, Olot and Vic from 5 to 9 July. They are proposed as an essentially interdisciplinary forum. I would like to close by inviting you both to Grand Tour 2022 and to the Walking Art Encounters, to present and share your experiences, your journeys, your creative strolls, with like-minded people from all over the world.** Walking, naturally.
* To find out more or take part in Grand Tour https://elgrandtour.net/
** To find out more or take part in Walking Art Encounters https://www.artdelcaminar.org/