I first became enamoured of Frankx Lefavre’s work at the start of 2014, when he participated in the LEA’s “interim” series of installations, and I met him at the piece he’d built which he informally called “light and glass” (and about which you can read here). Since that time, I’ve reported on a number of his set pieces at the Linden Endowment for the Arts, and for the 8th round of the LEA’s Artist in Residence series, he is back once more, with arguably one of his most ambitious projects yet – and one which was bound to grab my attention.
Cocytus: the 9th Circle of Hell, now open at LEA 18, is a dramatic 3D representation of the ninth and lowest of the circles of hell Durante degli Alighieri wrote about in Inferno, the first cantica of his Divine Comedy. This is the resting place – if such a term might be used – of those who have committed treachery or acts of fraud, and within it are four “rounds” leading inwards, and through which Dante travels with his guide, Virgil. Within each round, and according to the form of their treachery, are the souls of the damned, buried in ice to varying degrees, from semi-submerged through to completely entombed.
The four rounds of Cocytus are described by Dane as, Caina (after Cain from the Bible), where can be found those who betray their blood relatives; Antenora (after Antenor), where can be found those who betray their county; Ptolomea (after Ptolemy, the governor of Jericho) where can be found those who betray their guests; and Judecca (after Judas Iscariot), where can be found those who betray their benefactors and masters. At the very centre of this round lies Satan, bound up to the waist in ice.
Visitors to Cocytus: the 9th Circle of Hell take something of Dante’s journey through the Cocytus of Inferno, starting with their arrival in a dramatic, desolate landscape dominated by a red-rimmed Sun which fixes them with a baleful stare. A slender wooden bridge directs people to a path which zig-zags down to the maw of a cavern, and the first of the rounds of of which Dante wrote.
The path through the installation is also a zig-zag, and the windlights should change progressively as you make your why through the four rounds – I’ve used different lighting in the images here for effect). They are atmospheric in tone, but you may need to pick your way with care to avoid blind turns or dead ends. There are some torches along the way to mark a part of the path, so keep an eye out for them, and a further wooden bridge will bring you to the innermost round.
While representing Dante’s work, in a vivid manner, Frankx also takes a couple of diversions as well – his Satan is not the three-faced beast Dante witnessed, for example – which is not to say it is any the less imposing. More particularly, where Dante saw Cocytus as a frozen lake, Frankx’s use of the path through the caverns and over the four icy rounds gives the impression one is following the course of a frozen river, albeit one broken by sections of hard stone. In this way, the ice here carries an echo of the original Cocytus, the river of lamentation (or wailing) in Greek mythology, and one of the five rivers surrounding Hades.
This is the second interpretation of Dante’s Inferno I’ve seen mounted at the LEA, the first being Rebeca Bashly’s Inferno in October 2011, which marked the inaugural AIR / LEA installation. Like that installation, Cocytus: the 9th Circle of Hell is an involved and beautifully executed representation of of Dante’s poem. It will be open through until the end of June, and a visit is recommended.