Arts, Education and Urban Life

City of words

Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Raval district, 1998.

La ciutat de les paraules (City of Words) is a visual poetry project involving an entire district, a large group of artists and the Education Service of a museum. The aim of this activity is to transform run-down urban spaces into supports for poetry and see the balconies of houses as places to share memories and hopes for the future.





How many houses, how many streets

do we need for a city to begin to be a city?

L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations


The city is a meeting point. So is language. The city combines narrow streets with wide squares, avenues with blind alleys, green spaces with industrial spaces, remarkable buildings with huge run-of-the-mill housing complexes, and the like. So does Ianguage. Fashionable words mingle with private conversations, just as some discussions belong to the morning and some others are saved for the evening or the hours of utter darkness. Cities can be as old as our most distant memories or brand-new. So can Ianguage. We may repeat the stories of Ulysses and recall the singsong of Homeric poetry, or say for the very first time just what we suddenly have seen clearly. The city is thus one of the cradles of civilization, where the human race is building its own custom-made shelter. So is Ianguage. Because we live among things with a name, things and words often get confused. And that which goes nameless rarely exists.


City of Words is an artistic initiative that enlightens us while it stirs up confusion between citizens’ desires and the ways they are expressed. City of Words turns the fascination with a word into the gateway to a universe of hidden feelings and sensations that, for a moment, will be the focus of attention. City of Words builds imaginary constructions based on the private meaning of common words. City of Words links balconies in such a way that apartment buildings are transformed into huge blackboards of memories and desires.


City of Words has given a proper name to small places hidden in the Raval neighborhood, and, for a moment, has turned them into singular spaces recovered on behalf of surprise and discovery. City of Words has relaunched the trade of public scribes. The market square, one of the most ancestral meeting points, has sheltered a strange conversation about the shape that becomes every word, about the drawing that befits every pronunciation, about the elegance that words may acquire when written on banners, thus becoming objects of contemplation.


City of Words has been a veritable festival of the arts that has given us an insight, with the clarity that characterizes any mystery, into the fact that linguistic diversity is one of the first raw materials with which cities are built. Just as stones are numbered when a building is to be reconstructed somewhere else, cities change when their people say aloud those words which help them to live and to invent the future they would like to live in.


The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art hosted this artistic initiative and offered it to the city on a day indisputably devoted to the written word, April 23rd, International Book Day.

The city as a whole responded to the event. And the party is just beginning: for words, like houses, streets, and squares, survive by absorbing difficulties. Thus, the Raval neighborhood will be from now on, made of a somewhat thicker shared fabric. If this conversation does not cease to grow, the neighborhood may become the City of Words of a collective imagination that, nearly without our being aware of it, helps the asphalt city and everyday Ianguage, where everyone’s hours slip away, advance.


Eulàlia Bosch