Every year on the 19th of March, Valencia is a city on fire. Dozens of temporary sculpted monuments, several metres high, burn to ashes to mark the end of The Fallas (pronounced “fy-ahs”), an annual festival declared as World Heritage by Unesco in 2016. This year they work separatedly but, for the first #FallasUnesco, the artists Anna Ruiz and Giovanni Nardin created the children’s monument in Valencian Plaza del Ayuntamiento. We chatted with them about the festivity and the role of arts in Valencia.
You have both studied fine arts. Are fallas a means of expression?
Anna: For us, they certainly are. I always liked Fallas as a festival, but I couldn’t find anything that interested me. So I decided to create what I’d like to see and express it in a more contemporary language. Also, as artists, fallas are a challenge: they allow you to work in a public space and communicate with people in the street, but also to do it in a size you won’t find elsewhere. From that point of view, we’re very lucky to work on the Fallas Festival.
When you created the Falla Infantil for Valencian Plaza del Ayuntamiento, you talked about breaking with continuity. Does the Fallas Festival today do that?
Anna: I have a critical point of view, because I think it’s quite stalled. They feed back into themselves, and there aren’t any new contributions, so the spectator doesn’t get anything but the show. And we believe that the festival can be way richer since, in the end, the monuments occupy a public space that has been handed over by the citizens.
Giovanni: I think that the Fallas Festival has lost its aesthetic and critical element, which was actually its essence. So, for us, opening doors to new ways of doing things was essential. We think that if the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is the place for all Valencians, it should also be the one representing every possibility, every language, every possible aesthetic.
And what’s your bet for this situation to change?
Anna: Actually, what we want is to motivate more people to understand Fallas in a different way. In the street, you are presenting a work to people they’re not used to seeing, you’re making it seem familiar to them. And when one takes part in a work like that, it’s easier to be able to understand it.
Giovanni: This is especially important in an environment where, until not so long ago, institutions that were supposed to take care and promote art were in disarray. That’s why it’s so interesting to leave those predefined spaces to keep art, like museums, and go find people in the streets.
So what is it happening in the art world in Valencia?
Anna: The overall landscape is changing and I think everything started with the small art festivals that have taken place in the last years. They came out because people from the artistic collective were tired of seeing a culturally dead city. Also, the museums in Valencia are now making an effort and, even if they don’t have big budgets, they’re trying to be active again.
Giovanni: After a period where they had been completely empty, museums and galleries are today developing really interesting activities. They’re now in the middle of a reconstruction process to try to make art permeate society.
And how do you achieve something like that?
Giovanni: The society we live in doesn’t educate people to value art. Even when we know that it makes a really valuable change in ordinary lives. It makes you stop, and even if it’s just for a second, something clicks.
Anna: I see those impulses as little activators. But today we have fewer and fewer tools to interpret what we see and, because of that, the distance between people and art is getting bigger. And that’s a pity because art is a part of everyone’s lives. We all need those impulses to take risks in every area, including science. And, in the end, that is what makes us evolve.