In front of the Ajuntament de València and to the left of the Font de la Plaça de l'Ajuntament in one of València’s main city squares, stand two white doves, symbols of peace, fighting over, or carrying, what appears to be an olive branch to the skies above. Or brought down to earth? Or are the birds being held down by these multi-storied wooden structures they are bound to, caged and unable to escape? Surrounding this struggle are a series of cartoonish, pop-cultural, political and universally-reflective sculptures, slightly larger-than-life but not quite so intimidating.

All these elements are jarring, contradictory, and almost feel random. Walking through the square, are teenage girls and adult women wearing traditional regalia, a mix of centuries old dress and hair styles that could be the past and future colliding. Overhead, a booming fireworks display, here known as a “mascletà,” is pounding both the mind, ears and heart, as rhythmic explosions create an atmosphere of controlled chaos and celebratory elation. The decibel level reaches near 120, testing your ability to make a clear decision of what you’re seeing, hearing. Your heart vibrates. Your teeth ache. Your eyes shake. It’s 2pm, and the mascletà lasts 5 minutes and yet the energy lasts for hours. There's a contradiction of joy and violence that is unexpected to the senses. There is the sound, the sights, and there is this fury. 

What at first sight appear to be disparate elements, actually create one meaningful, cohesive body of work, created by Spanish artist and former Juxtapoz cover, Escif. To put it mildly, the annual Las Fallas of Valencia is idiosyncratic, irreverent and wonderfully serious. Every year from March 1—19, the city becomes this bubbling energy, with over 400 fallas built around the city, commissioned by neighborhood districts and become these towering monuments of animated commentary. And to close out the ceremony, they are all burned, a climax that represents a clearing before the start of Spring and a bit of friendly ruckus that brings hundreds of thousands of people into the city. This, too, is a dichotomy; massive fires burn around the city in what sounds and appears to be destruction and yet represent rebirth.

In 2020, Escif’s concept was selected as the “falla municipal de València,” but due to COVID it was postponed. This year, Escif was able to have his grand moment on the center-stage of València, and he did not disappoint. Part of me thinks, in knowing how Escif has made work over the years, whether illegal street pieces, murals or his paintings and drawings, that this was maybe a more ideal situation. The war in Gaza, for which Escif and team started the Unmute Gaza project in late 2023, is evident even though works that were planned before the war began. Escif likes to have the viewer think about the malleability of truth and opinion, where contradiction is part of Western life no matter how well-intentioned you may be. At the heart of this installation are two doves of peace, fighting over an olive branch, going up in flames together. When I spoke with Escif about this last week, standing underneath the doves as the final positions for surrounding sculptures were being mapped out, he spoke about this worldwide tension and omnipresent forces of good. He noted to me later that, “Two doves, one branch. War implies selfishness and rejection; peace implies empathy and acceptance. War separates us; Peace unites us. Fear and Love. Two peace doves fighting over an olive branch.”

Throughout the installation, the tension is palpable. The apple, long a symbol from the garden of good and evil, is crushing a man using an Apple iPhone. Two aliens dressed as tourists are seen to be visiting Valencia because they heard it was the European Green Capital for 2024, a misunderstanding of ‘green’. The ubiquitous rubber duck, one of the great symbolic objects of plastic waste and our desire to control and commodify nature, is towering over a real duck, who quacks back confusedly. The Stay-Puft marshmallow man, used in Ghostbusters as the ultimate figure of childhood fantasy turned ultimate evil 100-foot destructor, shrugs with a smile at the foot of the doves.

If it seems like I’m making a list of the who’s who of humanity’s fallible traits, this is where Escif is at and it’s here, at this line between comfort and discomfort, that he’s been making art for quite some time. Whereas many of his works in the past were flat, he has in recent years explored 3D sculptural work, experimenting with scale to bring a more life-sized analysis and physicality to our Earth-sized problems. What I found so powerful here in Valencia, was the universality of these expressions. Pop iconography knows no language, and neither do centuries old conflicts. Best intentions can also bring out the worst of intentions, and sometimes we face our own personal contradictory dilemmas when we see great art. The Mexican poet and academic, César A Cruz, said "Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable", Escif does just that.

Escif is subversive enough to understand that putting Ghostbuster toys and rubber ducks beneath two soaring doves is also beautiful and quite funny. That you can circle an idea over and over, debate each angle and examine each side, and sometimes the image just wins or the concept overwhelms you. In the end, two doves burned to the ground on March 19th, each symbolizing its version of peace and went down in flames with it, together. Mutually assured destruction. It was a concept, created by an artist at the height of his powers, full of sound and burning with fury, signifying almost everything. —Evan Pricco

Thank you to Visit Valencia for supporting during Juxtapoz' visit to Fallas 2024. Follow @escif and