I think the only thing the Puerta de Alcalá is missing is a giant pink sheep. Here’s why.
Around November 20th every year, shepherds bring their flocks of sheep directly through the center of Madrid, in between these two stone markers (mojones) on the eastern side of Plaza Alcalá. This is supposed to be quite a scene, and it’s a tradition that dates back to 1273 during the time of King Alfonso X. Livestock owners founded an organization that was empowered with keeping open livestock paths throughout the country, enabling the sheep to move between the northern and southern provinces and avoid the cold weather.
The pathway marked at Puerta de Alcalá is one of the last of nine remaining in Spain. If you go to look for the mojones, they are really easy to miss. One is to the left of the entrance to Retiro Park, and the other is on the northeast corner of the Plaza de la Independencia.
All of the livestock paths were of varying width, but the widest at 75.23 meters are knows as cañadas reales (royal livestock passageways). The width between the two markers is ceremoniously measured by the shepherds each time they bring their flock into the city, reasserting their rights and confirming the path established 800 years ago.
So back to my giant pink sheep idea. We all need something that disconnects us from our everyday lives sometimes, and encourages us to see our surroundings in a new way. Madrid, as viewed through the arches of the puerta de Alcalá, soaring up the Gran Via, has an entirely different cadence with a giant pink sheep in the foreground. It allows city dwellers to break from reality and enter a bright, colorful fantasy city.
The installation creates its own narrative while at the same time uncovering an existing, forgotten one. Like the artworks I’ve posted on this blog, this intervention uses an existing viewpoint, and offers a way to experience the landscape with a point of comparison. The visual comparison is any aspect of the form: color, material, shape, angle, scale, etc. The possible material I could use reminds me of my beloved Breyer horses that I used to play with incessantly as a kid – impossibly smooth plastic.
The giant pink sheep would coincide with the actual running of the sheep in November and there would be at least one where the flock enters Madrid (above), and possibly others at different points along the trail.