Detour and drift, 20th century iconoclasts, searching, communication, blurred historical memories, life beyond language, the cinema of wandering lines.
Fernand Deligny (1913–1996) lived many biographies: theorist, communist, anti-psychiatry figure, autism researcher and roamer. Deeply skeptical of institutions, he made a history for himself after World War II by establishing communities for autistic and intellectually disabled children who would otherwise have found themselves in state asylums. Deligny rejected the idea that autistic children are wild and trapped beyond language. He sought and respected ways of communicating that we today call neurodiverse. To him, the truly outsider language was that of psychiatry, which he believed pathologised difference.
Emulating Deligny’s way of thinking, artist-filmmaker Esther Carlin has made a wandering work of fragments and questions in the shadows of the Cévennes mountains in Southern France, tracing her own efforts to speak to Deligny’s remaining collaborators. On her way, she comes across unfathomable maps, impossible ethical quandaries and translation barriers.
The area of Cevennes is rocky, austere and remote, and its people are proud of its distance and localism. Carlin’s footage is patchworked with archival clips of the kind of regional, collective encampments that Deligny so valued – a universe away from the cross-translation, scrolling, texting, surveillance, social control and hyper-communication of the present. Deligny also saw film as a non-verbal way for his autistic collaborators to live beyond norms of speech, consulting in the making of Les 400 coups (The 400 Blows) by Francois Truffaut, who would go onto produce Ce gamin-là (1976), which Carlin samples here.
Deligny prized mystery and autonomy, and Carlin has created a likeminded wander line across all these reference points.
About Esther Carlin
Esther Carlin recently graduated from the Australian National University’s School of Art and Design. Trained in both anthropology and art, she makes text, sculpture and film-based works installed in galleries.