Fernand Deligny, Legends of the Raft
From 11 February to 29 May
Curator: Sandra Alvarez de Toledo, Anaïs Masson and Martín Molina Gola,
with the help of Gisèle Durand-Ruiz, Jacques Lin and Marina Vidal-Naquet.
Fernand Deligny was born in 1913 in Bergues in the north of France. He worked as a teacher for maladjusted children in 1938 in Paris and Nogent-sur-Marne before becoming an educator at the medico-pedagogical institute of the
Armentières Asylum during the Second World War.
In 1943, he founded the first delinquency prevention shelters in Lille, where he later became director of the Centre d’observation et de triage (C.O.T), which he converted into an open centre operated by labourers and Resistance fighters.
In Paris in 1947, with members of the Communist Party, he founded La Grande Cordée, an association providing non-institutional care for delinquent and psychotic adolescents. It operated for some fifteen years.
In 1967—the year he met Janmari, a ten-year-old nonverbal autistic boy—he set up an informal care network for autistic children, in Monoblet in the Cévennes. The network lasted until the 1990s.
“My plan was to write,” said Deligny: for him, writing was a constant, existential activity, a permanent laboratory of his practice as an educator. Between the
aphorisms of Graine de crapule, a virulent lampoon against re-education practices, and L’Enfant de citadelle, an unfinished autobiography written at the end of his life, he published no less than twenty books. He died in Monoblet in
Fernand Deligny’s life and work are inseparable from his “attempts”  to allow the children and adolescents placed under his care—who were delinquent, psychotic, then autistic—to live according to their own “ways of being”, rather than according to the social rules of education. He conducted these experiments first within institutions, then “outside”, where it became possible to independently invent a specific living environment and a common territory. This outside perspective was the first condition of Deligny’s attempts; the second was experimentation.
In 1967, accompanied by those he called “close presences” (non-professional educators: first and foremost Jacques Lin, Gisèle and Any Durand, Guy and Marie-Rose Aubert), he founded an informal care network for autistic children in the Cévennes. To designate this fragmented, makeshift, precarious territory, he used the word “raft”. The raft was defined by places (“living areas”), an organisation, a language, and practices that we will be careful not to call artistic, since for Deligny, art remained something elusive on the horizon.
The exhibition at Crac Occitanie
This exhibition is an opportunity to present the network’s cartography on a large scale: transcriptions by “close presences”, on ordinary and tracing paper, of the autistic children’s “wander lines”, their detours, their gestures; and to show the constant use that was made of film and video in the living areas. By mobilising Deligny’s texts and the network’s images (photography, film, painting), it also enables the legends of the raft to be presented for the first time, and to be reconfigured for a possible reimagining of the epic of the Cévennes.
«artist of asylums»
Deligny’s work consisted in finding alternatives to educational and psychiatric institutions. Exhibiting research of this kind in a “place dedicated to artistic creation” was not self-evident. Deligny was not an artist, not in the institutional
sense, or in the sense in which the artist’s activity is defined by a social status. Nor did he claim to be an educator: he belonged to that generation which criticised not only designations, identity, and the subject, but also work and productivism, Western humanism, and colonialization, without however subscribing to the ideas of May 68.
Furthermore, from the 1940s, he challenged educational methods and the society one was being taught about. “My plan was to write”, he said, without calling himself a writer. Deligny was also careful not to say the word “art”. However, in a burlesque quip, he called himself an “artist of asylums”.
He explicitly defended asylum in the primary sense of the word, as in the right of asylum. And all of his attempts—from the Armentières asylum during the Second World War to the network he founded in the Cévennes in 1967 to care for autistic children—were accompanied by experimental practices that, though not presented as artistic, posit the question of art in an almost exemplary way.
Exhibition conceived by Sandra Alvarez de Toledo, Anaïs Masson and Martín Molina Gola with the help of Gisèle Durand-Ruiz, Jacques Lin and Marina Vidal-Naquet.
Top page image: Exhibition view Fernand Deligny, légendes du radeau at Crac Occitanie - Sète, 2023. In the middle of the room, Fernand Deligny’s book for consultation (original publications and publications by L’Arachnéen), selection from his articles, facsimile of the three Cahiers de l’Immuable (journal Recherches in 1975 and 1976), selection of books from Deligny’s library. Archives of L’Arachnéen. Photo : Aurélien Mole.
Photo in the text : Janmari, camp of L’Île d’en bas, 1969. In the background, Cornemuse. Photo: Henri Cassanas. Archives of Gisèle Durand-Ruiz and Jacques Lin.
 Words within quotation marks are those used by Fernand Deligny. They are part of the network’s language.
- Téléchargez : Guide de visite
- Téléchargez : Visitor’s guide in english / guide de visite en anglais
- Téléchargez : Guide de visite en gros caractères
- Téléchargez : Dossier pédagogique
- Téléchargez : Programme des activités
- Téléchargez : Dossier de presse en français
- Téléchargez : Press release English version
Friday 5 May
Screening: Comme un aimant, Images de Caroline Deligny
Hors les murs Projection
Thursday 6 April
Projection du film "Aucun d’eux ne dit mot" - en présence de Jacques Lin.
Hors les murs Projection
Friday 3 March
Projection du film "Monsieur Deligny, vagabond efficace" - en présence de Richard Copans