‘Versos al paso’ comes to an end in Madrid

The artistic collective Boa Mistura and the community of Madrid put an end this week to the initiative that now tinges the streets of the city

Versos al paso (paso in Spanish means both crossing and step) was born in 2016 under the creative direction of Boa Mistura, piquing the interest of all the pedestrians that walked across the city and saw the zebra crossings dressed in poetry those days. Now, in January 2019, the initiative meets its end through the impression of the peculiar mark in the last planned junction.

The team, formed by an architect, an engineer, two artists and a publicist, fell out with the traditional understanding of poetry when they brought it to the street in the most mainstream way possible: under the citizens’ feet walking the city non-stop. A few lines serigraphed at some of the busiest crossings in the city that quote some renowned singers in the national scene such as Leiva or Rayden.

“You are in my list of dreams come true”

Following the success and the media scope of this project, the group decided to pursue a scandalously higher goal and, last summer, they signed onto the expansion of this project without precedent. But they haven’t done the journey alone this time: they relied on collaboration with the City Council, promoted by the President of the community since 2015, Manuela Carmena.

The new proposal consisted of the conquest of another 1100 crossing of the capital city across 21 different districts, and it has concluded this week with the impression of the last verse. Carmena herself spray-painted the line “If poets, the incorruptibles, didn’t exist who would speak about the orphan (themes)?” (C. E. M.) on Recoletos Avenue, as an official act of conclusion.

More significantly, Boa Mistura set their goal in using the increased objectives to make poetry accessible to the whole community and decided to give a say to the community. The band called for citizen participation and, after more than 20,000 applications, ended up incorporating quotes from over 400 artists and writers, taking their lines to the asphalt of Madrid. Thus, poetry becomes the focus: verses from the community, to the community. The public not only receives. The public, in this original piece with an alternative platform, switches their role to a giving one, overcoming the limits of traditional poetry and achieving a sense of participation and urban inclusion.

The call, which took place from the 6th of August until the beginning of last September, invited all of those people with an interest in participating to donate their verses; to freely offer their contribution to the streets of their city.

The quotes, contributed through a website and limited to a maximum of 80 characters, were free of any other restrictions: the theme, the style or the language were left up to the writer’s choice, under the only condition of providing an appropriate translation to Spanish. Hence, the final result displays a wide variety of verses, quoting lines in non-official languages in the country such as German or English.

“On my way to the stars, my steps remain in the city”

Paula Bozalongo, a poet and architect living in Madrid, is one of the participants of this initiative. In her case, it was the organising team who, through a second and private selection phase, contacted her asking for verses to imprint in the streets. Paula speaks about her experience and the process of discretion to choose the lines to present: “the 80-character guideline is not as easy as it seems when it comes to choose a full verse with a meaning on its own. Within my published pieces, I looked for something that could meet this objective, something that could express enough in the space that was given and had an intention somehow related to the street”.

It is noteworthy how, once it has come to an end, the content of this initiative expresses very clearly the motivations of a young and contemporary society in a continuous fight for their rights and freedom. As a result of the public participation, a neat reflection of the collective interests has emerged: love, a clean and woundless love (“He loves me, he doesn’t hurt me. He hurts me, he doesn’t love me” — Blon)… Phrases about self-encouragement, motivation or the freedom and power of women are some of the most common topics throughout these personalized crossings. In Paula’s instance, one of her printed quotes advocates for a social protest, which she defines as part of her personal inquisitiveness.

“There are no women without light nor houses without windows”

All these topics perfectly fit the time of the active battle for justice; the time of feminist vindication and the pursuit of women’s domestic safety. The quote “Que no se te olvide: esta manada aúlla más fuerte que la vuestra” has caused an enormous enthusiasm, in reference to a conflict that shocked and mobilised people of all ages and genres across the country: the group rape of a young woman in the traditional celebrations of San Fermín two summers ago, and its filming and broadcasting through a WhatsApp group in which the criminals called themselves “The Herd”. The trial process that followed was also controversial and, still unfinished, it does not seem to be responding to the millions of voices rising and “howling” for feminist justice.

“Don’t forget: this herd howls higher than your herd”

The most powerful thing about this initiative is, clearly, the chosen platform for the dissemination of the messages and the outreach that has been achieved. A graffiti in the horizontal plane, as opposed to the traditional urban façade art, accentuates the striking character of this medium. Thus, these last three months have been a gradual process of covering the city with some poetry and taking advantage of the platform’s originality as a means of reaching a large audience formed of varied ages and social groups. At the peak of a technological era full of social networks, a verse graffitted on the road catches the attention of anyone crossing the road and invites them to share such a “trendy looking” content: a Facebook status, a quick tweet or an Instagram story… This format offers the content ready to be shared and quickly reach a large number of receivers. “It is about telling something that, in the end, will have great visibility on a quick and intentionally effective basis” — explains Paula.

In addition, the group has promoted on-line posting themselves. They have created an Instagram profile in which they upload content on a daily basis and respond to most of the comments, enhancing the “mentions” and “shares”. The same idea has just been taken, as a culmination of the project, to a Twitter account in which they promise to be as active as in the rest of platforms.

As summarising, you can access the website versosalpaso.madrid.es to locate each quotation on an interactive map, with a search option by author or keywords.

Boa Mistura has achieved undeniable levels of success with this initiative. The artistic band offers, honoring the meaning of their Portuguese name, a good mix… a brilliant cocktail of words, poetry and intentions to change the country paso a paso from the streets of its capital. Now, after the attainment in Madrid and after celebrating the official closure, the idea now embarks on an overseas journey to the American continent. Versos al paso will fly to the Argentinian city of Cordoba next March. Do you dare to participate?

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