At Galerie Lakaye, specializing in Haitian Art, Los Angeles
September 26-December 26, 2020
to be with them
by Rosanna Albertini
The artist scratched lines of feeling into the metal. The metal is flat like a page. It has natural colors as if earth and sky had been absorbed by the implacable stillness of the surface that doesn’t bear any resemblance to any living space. Francesca Lalanne followed her feelings during the many months of ronawave, let them work through her hands grabbing and carving the outlines of human bodies she never saw, they were numbers, massive clouds of names and addresses. She carved the memory of their presence. Giving legs to the coffins, or placing the coffin on human shoulders, without place. They move in the emptiness of a non-lieu, tableau vivants (as the artist calls them) of the dead peoples lives, or maybe after-lives, because emptiness is great, and beautiful, escapes description.
She had to cross the line of the unknown and, in so doing, gave form to an imagined flow of gentle, elegant movements for flat bodies and their flat houses, carrying other bodies with grace and silence, a dance in the void sometimes becoming one thing with the house. She freed the figures from the heaviness of memory.
“Description is revelation. It is not
The thing described, nor false facsimile.
It is an artificial thing that exists,
In its own seeming, plainly visible,
Yet not too closely the double of our lives,
Intenser than any other life could be….
WALLACE STEVENS, Description Without Place vi, in Transport to Summer, (1947)
Yet the plague is a burden on our hearts. The artist is one of us. Heaviness must be in the scene. And it is, completely out of the scene carved on metal: a piece of granite hung with a white thread seems to cut vertically each picture in the middle, and ends beyond the lower edge of each tableau. Images open a sense of balance, pain that is contained, almost hidden.
Francesca grew up Catholic in Haiti. Left the island at age 8, a very young political refugee. The more I dive into the scenes she recently carved, the more I recognize the same style of the rituals of my childhood in an Italian village. Catholic culture is a master of controlled, staged actions inducing the many to pour themselves into a common moment of grace, in which routine, fatigue, chores, despair are lifted, even only for a little while. As I opened my mouth for the communion, the mystery was so overwhelming that I had to shut down rational questions and try not to feel I could hurt Jesus with my teeth. For a seven year old, the issue was serious. Confession was an inner trial. During the ritual and after, personal feelings were not allowed to leak out. Balance and composure disclose a non-invasive sense of beauty, the art of sharing without words, giving to the body the primary role. Such a mysterious gift of life! One by one, like leaves of the same tree, each is one. If to face death without place brings back a sense of debt for the unique story we are one by one, I mentally give back to this artist a deep thanks, my mouth never opened.