In March every year, the city of Valencia revels in its traditional Fallas festivities. This annual fiesta, held in commemoration of Saint Joseph (the patron saint of carpenters), is one that combines tradition, satire, and art. Las Fallas begins on 1st March with a daily mascletà (firecracker show) at 2pm. The festival truly comes alive on 15th March when hundreds of incredibly artistic ninots (dolls or puppets made using materials such as papier mâché, cardboard, polystyrene, and wood) are ‘planted’ around the city—a number of ninots are so huge that cranes are needed to position them. For several days, spectators can wander Valencia’s streets and marvel at the magnificent sculptures. Reflecting a Valencian sense of humour, ninots often depict bawdy, satirical scenes and current events. Las Fallas then culminates on 19th March with la cremà (the burning) of the ninots (although two are saved by a popular vote and exhibited in the Museo Fallero de València).
Fallas artists and artisans are truly unique to Valencia, their unparalleled craftsmanship representing part of the region’s rich craft heritage. A particular woodcarving technique employed by some Fallas artisans to create works is called vareta. In essence, vareta is a traditional skill in which fine wooden strips are used to reproduce the shape—‘skin’—of the object they reflect.
LZF’s first foray into using vareta led to the creation of its life-size Koi. Mariví Calvo, LZF co-founder and creative director, was very much at the helm of this innovative project. A seasoned artist, Calvo is passionate about Fallas artisanship and the application of vareta as a woodcarving technique. In many ways, Koi had its genesis in 2008 when designer Luis Eslava created the ‘Armadillo’ lamp prototype for LZF. The Armadillo offered a new way of thinking about the construction of a lamp and resulted in the ‘Koi fabric’, described by Calvo as ‘the superposition of small sheets of wood in the form of scales.’ To present the Armadillo in 2009, more than 4,000 pieces of backlit woven wood veneer (Koi fabric) accompanied the lamp.
The Koi fabric’s complexity meant it could not be used to achieve a product—this conundrum provided Mariví Calvo with the opportunity to explore a potential application. In 2011, LZF worked with Javier Gutierrez, co-founder of Inocuo The Sign, to make a film about an imaginary Koi, inspired by the Koi fabric. In the film, balls of light are seen falling into a deep, dark pool—a mysterious wooden carp feeds on this light, transforming into a magical light sculpture. The wooden carp in the film would eventually become a life-size reality. In 2015, master Fallas artisan Manolo Martin worked with Calvo and the LZF team to construct the first Koi for LZF, a sculpture that measured more than 3 1/2 metres in length. To explain its construction, Martin makes an analogy with the world of navigation: ‘the dogas, made using birch plywood, are a ship’s ribbing. The varetas, made using elm, are the boards nailed to the ribbing, that make up the hull of the ship.’ To make the Koi, dozens of small wood veneer slats were arranged on a wooden skeleton, creating a skin. Wooden strips were then used to make the Koi’s fins and whiskers.
LZF’s life-size collection is, in many ways, an homage to Valencia’s Fallas artisan. Since the introduction of Koi, the collection has grown to include a number of new models. Several years ago, LZF invited the artist Isidro Ferrer to create a project without any preconditions: the ‘Funny Farm’ was born. From this curious cast of colourful characters, Smelly Fant, Walking Fish, and Big Bird became life-size light sculptures. Ferrer credits the ‘unique spatial and scenographic vision’ of LZF co-founders Mariví Calvo and Sandro Tothill with the ‘gigantization’ of these whimsical creatures. To make Smelly Fant, Walking Fish, and Big Bird a physical actuality, Ferrer praises the ability of Fallas artisan Manolo Martin.
Inspiring a sense of wonderment, these life-size creations are a nod to the artistic Fallas ninots of Valencia’s Fallas fiesta. Perhaps more importantly, LZF’s life-size collection champions the Fallas artisan, helping to keep Valencia’s traditional vareta woodcarving technique alive.