Balayer — A Map of Sweeping

Imogen Stidworthy

In 2008 the Belgian architect Wim Cuyvers was running a research project at JVE called Traces of Autism, which has probably have left strong impressions with all the ad/researchers at JVE during the two years that he worked on it. During the opening week of 2008 he showed the films Le Moindre Geste (1971) and Ce Gamin La (1975), which struck me with great force, especially in terms of how a form of relation between people – between subject and camera/viewer, and between subjects within the frame, was evoked. In ‘Ce Gamin La’ the camera focuses on daily life in the experimental network for ‘living with’ developed by French educationalist Fernand Deligny, which existed from 1967 to the mid-‘80s in the area around the village of Monoblet, in the Cevennes (FR). We see ‘close presences’ – adults – and the autistic children they live with. The children find a place in the landscape; they may stay there for a while, close to a tree or a rock, perhaps aware of the countryside around them, the sounds and smells; adults and children engage closely with the environment and carry out tasks, more and less readable. What I understood from these images (lacking enough French to grasp the voice-over) was a form of being-in-relation outside language, a form of relation perhaps based on proximity, and certain forms of attention, to others and to things – not on any form of direct address, or attempts at communication.

One of the regular practices carried out by the adults in this network was tracing the movements of the children as they moved around the countryside and in their daily household tasks. The films and maps have remained a very singular reference for my work; the maps I showed in context of two exhibitions I curated, considering the borders of language, at MuKHA, Antwerp and Fundacio Tapies, Barcelona. In carrying out the research and arranging the loans, I met Sandra Alvarez de Toldedo who runs the publishing company L’Arachnéen, and for the past fifteen years has been working to publish several books of the writings of Deligny, lectured extensively on his work and acted as a guardian and go-between for the loaning of the maps. Through Sandra I was able to meet Jacques Lin and Gisèle Durand, two of the first and most key members of the network. Today they live with two of the children who grew up with them and Deligny, in Monoblet, now in their fifties — Christo and Gilou. Into this concrete and contemporary situation, the last traces if you like of the network at Monoblet, I have been working with Gisèle in sessions of ‘tracing’ which she initiates with Christo and Gilou and other autistic adults. These are not related to the tracing of Deligny’s mapping – except perhaps in the sense of whole activity being a ‘tool for concentration’, as Wim Cuyvers once described the maps: a medium for developing a mutual yet independent attention between people and things. In the sessions the spaces between bodies, the space of the surface to be marked, the duration of time and directing of energy, are manifest in the syncopated rythms of bodily movement and sounds. We hear a landscape of different forms of language and are aware of a spectrum of positions in and outside language: discursive, narrative, non-linguistic vocalisations, and the ‘object-voice’ – sounds of things or materials manipulated by the autistic beings.

These are aspects I am focusing on during filming and recording of the sessions, as I develop a new work for Sao Paolo Bienal (Sept 2014), Balayer – A Map of Sweeping (Varrendo – A Map of Sweeping). This material is brought together with recordings of direct translations of extracts from Deligny’s writings, through the voices of Dominique Hurth and Suely Roelnik, and in sequences from the video archive of Jacques Lin shot between 2000 and 2008. During the talk in Berlin I will show and discuss material from this work in progress.