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Culture worth travelling for

Valencia’s festival of fire

From burning statues to snowy sculptures, our pick of the season’s cultural events worth travelling for

From burning statues to snowy sculptures, our pick of the season’s cultural events worth travelling for

February/March 2017

VALENCIA  Bonfire of the Valencians
The fuse for Valencia’s festival of fire trails back to the Middle Ages. During the winter, when days were short, carpenters hung planks of wood to hold candles while they worked. When spring arrived they would celebrate by burning them in the streets. Centuries later, this ritual has become joyously irreverent. The planks have been replaced by bawdy statues that satirise public figures. Each neighbourhood fashions its own and on March 19th – the Night of Fire – they go up in flames. One, however, is spared by the vote of the people and joins the crew of previous winners in the Museo Fallero. The five days leading up to the final conflagration are a continuous street party, with fireworks, bullfights and paella.
Las Fallas Fiesta Valencia, Mar 15th-19th

LONDON  I, robot
Although robots are the standard-bearers of the future, they have a long past, which will be on display in an ambitious exhibition at the Science Museum. The word “robot” wasn’t coined until 1920, but people have been making automata for centuries. Some of the earliest examples from this collection of over 100 humanoid robots – a mechanical monk and an iron manikin, for instance, both from the 16th century – can be seen rubbing metallic shoulders with cutting-edge models on loan from research labs. The collection includes robots from fiction, too: you need spend only a few minutes with Maria, from “Metropolis”, or Terminator T-800 to realise that the exhibition tells the history not just of robots but also of people. Contained within these scraps of metal and bundles of wire are humanity’s hopes for the future, and also its fears.
Robots Feb 8th-Sep 3rd

HOUSTON  ¡Viva la revolución!
In a frenzied parade in downtown Havana, masked trumpeters and feathered dancers groove to beating drums. But this carnival is marching backwards, blind to what lies ahead. This is “Conga Irreversible”, an immersive video installation examining the idea of Cuba as a paradise – one infused with uncertainty about the future. It is one of the works displayed in “Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950” at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts. This exhibition, which opens only months after Castro’s death, is hinged on the anger, frustration and admiration of Cuba’s artists towards its 1959 revolution. It is the most significant display of modern and contemporary Cuban art to travel to America in decades. Three years in the making, it includes many works that have never before been exhibited outside Cuba.
Mar 5th-May 21st

GSTAAD  Art on high
Ever since the railway opened the village up to the world in 1904, Gstaad has been a magnet for the beau monde, who come to schuss down pristine pistes and sip dry martinis. Yet, though bursting with private collectors, Gstaad has no public art. Elevation 1049 is changing this. For six weeks, art will be everywhere. Artists of international standing, including Ryoji Ikeda, a Japanese soundscaper, will explore the theme of “Avalanche”. Their art will take over spaces from the Palace Hotel to the high glacier, inspired by the instability of the snow that transforms Gstaad each year. And, rising up around this transient work, on streets and slopes, site-specific land art will challenge and echo the mountains. Expect the delightful, the disturbing and, this being Gstaad, the achingly chic.
Feb 3rd-Mar 19th

KOMAKI  What a cock up!
Japan loves festivals, from the refined to the wacky. On March 15th, the Japanese celebrate honen matsuri – the fertility festival. One place does it with particular aplomb: Komaki, close to Nagoya. The main event involves a group of men carrying a 2.5-metre wooden penis, inserted into a mobile temple, from one shrine to another. Festival-goers, old and young, munch on penis-shaped snacks while sake, which flows freely (and free-of-charge), adds lubrication to the event. Komaki’s festival attracts single women and childless couples cradling wooden phalluses who pray for offspring, as well as farmers keen to welcome other abundances of springtime. Tourists are welcome, as long as they are not too prudish. And if you can’t make this date, another phallic festival, kanamara matsuri, takes place in early April in Kawasaki.

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