How to construct a ‘falla’
Las Fallas is already upon us: Valencia celebrates its most recognised party in style, that of ‘Las Fallas’. It is a celebration based around fire and fireworks which culminates on the 19th of March with the burning of the eye-catching fallas; huge satirical sculptures which represent current topics, customs…
The size and skill of the fallas amazes everyone. But how do they construct them? Nowadays there are two distinct methods: the traditional, whose principal material is cardboard; and the modern, for which they use polystyrene or Styrofoam.
But before explaining we must specify that there is a difference between the falla (the scene that the sculpture represents) and the ninots (they are the figures which form part of the fallas).
Undoubtedly the most laborious method (and the most esteemed) is the traditional one: after making an outline of the completed falla out of paper, a model of the monument is prepared in order to find out how it will look. Next, different clay models are made to the natural size of the distinct elements which make up the falla (on one hand the characters and then the other elements). This clay “statue” is covered in plaster which, when it hardens, takes the form of the model. The clay model is destroyed and production continues on the plaster mould, which is divided into parts. The fallero artist then fills the inside of the mould with a mixture of cardboard and glue. When the mixture is dry, the piece is removed from the mould and is placed onto a wooden or `polyester frame. When the falla is completed, primer paint is added (so that subsequent layers of paint stay better) and the final layer of paint is added.
The modern procedure is quicker, but is also more controversial. A complete model of the monument is also made. But the pieces are cut directly out of Styrofoam (the same material used to hold objects in place inside of packets). Next the pieces are joined together on the frame, they are bound so that the sculpture has a uniform and looks like “one single piece”, it is given a coat of primer and then the final layer of paint.
We say that the modern method is controversial for various reasons: although it also has its merits, some artists think that this form of construction isn’t as “honourable” as the traditional. It lacks difficulty and, therefore, “art”. Furthermore, the polystyrene fallas result as being “dirtier”: having been made from a plastic material they produce a dense, black and unpleasant smoke which is somewhat toxic. They are even said to be less spectacular as they burn quicker than those made from the cardboard and glue mixture. This has meant that many workshops who did use the modern method have returned to classic production: what they lose in time they make up for in spectacle, satisfaction and even health.
These are, in general terms, the ways of constructing a fallero masterpiece. Of course the preparation and method can change from one workshop to the next. But what is clear is that all of the fallero artists work with the same intention: to make the night when their creations are burned unforgettable for both spectators and visitors.
P.S.: Of course, we assume that many of you will be sorry that such masterpieces become ashes lost in the wind. But don’t worry: every year one ninot (not the whole falla because it wouldn’t fit into a building) is pardoned and is put into a museum in the city of Valencia which you can visit throughout the year.
Enjoy the festivities!