Association La Main à l’Oreille – Antenne Île de France
Part one: Zoé, from her cries to her writing…
In 2006, when Zoe arrived at the Nonette Center, she was 17 years old. He shrieked without ceasing, and life at home had become very difficult. I lived alone with my two daughters, because Zoe has a sister three years younger. Her father had died when they were 7 and 4 years old.
Zoé was terrified … crossing a door was unbearable for her… approaching her was impossible for us … Her fear of the other was so great that the accompaniment in daily life (toilet, dress …) was made under shrill cries, redoubled with words repeatedly looping and rejecting gestures.
Zoé did not write, never learned to read, but she held on to the images of many books she held in her hands, as a support.
Following the advice of Danièle Rouillon (educator specialized in the CTR of Nonette, clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst) that accompanied her at that time, thinking that it was important to maintain ties that linked her to her family universe, I bought her decoration magazines and art books. Zoé turns the pages front to back and back to front, pushes them away and then picks them back up.
One day when she was cleaning up with Danièle Rouillon, Zoé address to her what Danièle was going to interpret as a writing activity.
Here is the excerpt from a text that Danièle wrote about that singular moment that will mark the beginning of Zoe’s creations:
“First Zoé goes over and over with her fingers on the top wall of the bathtub. Then, she invents a graphic tool with her body. She folds her middle finger over his forefinger, squeezes his thumb under the forefinger and with this knotting of her fingers makes a kind of writing on the wall. Trace loops along the entire wall, and then return to the beginning, as if to write the next line. She is calm, she does not scream. To the contrary, she makes a line-by-line effort continuing to the bottom of the wall, then on the wall next to it, until using the entire surface up to the edge of the bath. From the movement of her fingers, to the loosening of her legs, to the twisting of her hips, she invests her whole body in this activity of invisible writing. The precise, rapid and determined path of her fingers, her body movements, evoke the legendary scene of the teacher who writes on the blackboard his mathematical proof … “
In the following days, Danièle Rouillon proposes to make her paths readable by depositing a material on the wall (paint, toothpaste, clay …)
Zoé turned and rejected all the objects around her, causing them to fall, at a distance. It was impossible to keep the material in her hands.
The months passed, and Danièle Rouillon then proposed to her to make “sculpture over painting”, thus recovering signifiers in bond with her father sculptor in glass, and with myself. Danièle fastens a cloth to a table, and deposits a great quantity of paint there.
I return to another extract from a text by Danièle Rouillon describing the first moments of Zoe’s creation:
“At the beginning she retakes her style of spelling with all the fingers folded in clamp. My presence seems heavy, she screams, tries in vain to take off the fabric. I propose that she paint alone, assuring her of my absent presence … “I’m out there …” Alone, she calms down and she is encouraged. Again, she makes body with writing, bends her legs, and puts her chest, her forearms, on the fabric. Her fingers covered with paint make great distances on the cloth; they extend across the table and the walls. She grabs the edge of the cloth. For her, what seems important is to touch it (…).
I watch her through a tiny opening in the door. I pay her visits. In front of me and in front of the sculptured canvas, Zoé straightens her whole body and exhibits a victorious pride. It is a small joy. She raises one shoulder, then the two, stands in suspense, eyebrows raised. She sketches brief ironic smiles and expresses a certain satisfaction. Astounded, calm, Zoé looks me directly in the eyes: it is a new way of addressing the other, which she also establishes in everyday life. She is not scared anymore. She has become light and agile; she comes to the encounter with that calm ironic astonishment. When I tell her we are going to conclude, she still grabs the cloth. I propose to continue a little more. I put the vertical cloth in front of her. Moreover, there, with a brief gesture, she scratch the cloth with her nails, inscribing a kind of signature expressing a satisfied determination … “
After this session, Danièle Rouillon sends me a photo of this first canvas of Zoé. I am amazed, touched, excited to be carried away by this creative universe of my daughter. The first thing I see with astonishment in a corner of the canvas is the portrait of a young woman who seems to be herself … leaving her mark as a stamp, and seeming to say “cu-cu, it’s me!” As a sign pointing the beginning of a reencounter relationship, happy and alive.
At that moment, something strong was inscribed in me, something of the order of the desire, of a sustained desire that was going to start and to allow me to leave the fall that had occurred in me when I understood that my daughter would not evolve like the other children.
Zoe continued her work with Danièle Rouillon, who proposed regularly to create with green paint – “green” / “glass” (NT: vert / verre: attends the homophony in French of both words, at the same time taking up the signifier of the father, a sculptor “in glass”), a signifier linked to her father – and with which she indicated from the beginning some of her “affinity”.
Desirous of presenting her work in exhibitions, Danièle Rouillon made me participate regularly in the choice of frames for the paintings, in the encounter with a photographer to create a book, allowing me to progressively invest that artistic project around my daughter. Since then, when I go to Nonette to see Zoé, I participate in her painting sessions and take photographs.
I began to photograph Zoé in her gesture, capturing a very intimate relationship of her body with the canvas. On the other hand, my attraction to the work of detail and materials, has led me to zoom on certain parts of her paintings, surprising details of graphics and colors, which have allowed me “another” look at that singular writing that Zoe is inventing.
From the “photographic creation” that has been born, something between her and me has been able to echo and weave little by little beyond words and shouts.
This choice of creative affinity is sustained by desire and determination of Danièle Rouillon, who offered her a space allowing her to invent her own way of writing or saying “to do with her body”, as well as a framework in which her singular writings have been replaced her cries.
Today Zoé is calm, she does not cry anymore … but she does not speak…
Mireille Battut in her article “Follow the thread of autistic invention” writes: “To live with autism is to accept not having all the answers …”. This phrase has made sense to me and allowed me to be taught by my daughter’s findings, pointing out the evidence that they are hers…
However, Mireille Battut continued: “… it is also, sometimes, to receive the questions in full face, as sea blows.”
Second part: Adult … a dance for two
In January 2015, the new Occupational Home of the Therapeutic Center of Nonette opens its doors and welcomes the young adults of the IME. Two educators know them well and are the ones assigned to accompany them in daily life. The buildings are brand new; Zoé has a large and very nice room with bathroom. It is an important moment for the Institution and for all those young people who have finally a place to be welcomed as adults … Everything has to go well!
However, I sense a sadness, I fell a restlessness … I shake them away…. I begin to reason… This project is formidable, and Zoé is doing well!
Danièle Rouillon will no longer be her reference educator, but she still devotes some of her time to continue this creative work with Zoé.
After the sessions, the relationship of her body to the canvas is transformed. She rests heavily in a horizontal position on the table and her legs are stiff. Her hands are knotted together, only the tips of her fingers scratch the fabric and her forearms make strokes on the painting. The movement of her body and her hands is fixed in a quasi-immobility on the canvas and space.
I find her paintings very beautiful … and yet…
We decide then make a more engaging modification in the design of her room, creating a large closet that closes the space and regroup all her canvas with her, in the privatized frame of her room.
Last winter, Zoé had health issues with her legs. “A problem that often suffer old people who do not move much,” said a friend who works in geriatrics.
My sadness and my restlessness began to make sense…
Currently Zoé is calm, does not disturb with her cries, does not ask for anything…
They take care of her carefully, giving all the care she needs. My trust in the institution remains intact. Each parent’s desire is that they take care of their child, as best they can…
What happens is not on that side…
During the “Affinity Therapy” Congress, Myriam Perrin talked about what Nonette teaches us. I quote: “(…) taking into account the creative abilities of the autistic, their search for a code, the need for a symbolic graft and absolute rules, could not be better assured than by the support of a partenaire oriented, a double reinsurer, bearer of emptiness, a true structure of support with the condition of a discreet enunciation.”
“This enlightened partner, bearer of emptiness” is not what Danièle Rouillon has been for Zoé? I take back other excerpts from her writings on her work with her:
“My presence seems heavy, she screams … I propose her to paint alone, assuring her of my absent presence …” I’m out there … “ Alone, she calms down and she is encouraged. Again, she makes body with writing …”
“Her journeys in space, our encounters of creation, make us execute a dance for two. I let myself slide in her movement. “
After these episodes of the body, it was decided to continue and intensify the sessions of creation that inexorably hold Zoé.
Danièle Rouillon becomes then” easel “, making resistance to the pressure that Zoé opposes. She holds her. Zoé straightens up. She puts her body back in motion. I quote again:
“I hold the canvas and act as an easel; she rests there with all her strength. I resist her pressure and hold her. Zoé prints her arms there. She moves away. Free, turns on herself. She returns, fleetingly passes her gloved hand of paint on the canvas, on her hair and her face that she makes up this way. Then her mother enters in the dance of the easel. She raises her shoulders, an eyebrow, sketches an ironic smile, and straightens. She looks straight into our eyes, with pride and wonder. It is not a drawing according to norms; it is a unique, singular creation. “
Third part: Zoï or the waltz in three times…
Zoé or zoï, expressed in ancient Greece the simple fact of living, common to all animate beings (animals, men or gods); means “life,” “existence.”
What I can say about it…
When Zoé entered Nonette’s CTR, the relationship between her and me had become unsustainable. The separation between us and the role gradually allowed to Danièle Rouillon, allowed me to open a space where a new relationship, lightened of a too much, too full, too close, could be woven following the thread of the inventions of my daughter. I soon discovered in myself a new look, another, a look that I had not been able to pose on her for years … that of joyous surprise, admiration, that of a totally new desire that was coming.
When the passage to the Occupational Home –on the other hand, that term is self-explanatory. Will we be in the occupational?
My sadness and my restlessness came from there, from the lack of the function of the desiring third occupied by Danièle Rouillon. Who would welcome her findings, being her the central point of that desire freshly hatched?
I was to find myself in a very close relationship with Zoé, because I discover today that I still need the presence of a third person that allows the installation of a slight distance between my daughter and me.
Zoé spoke with her body, made us understand what “life” means to her: certainly, to be cared for by the companions that surround her, but also to be on the side of desire, the desire that lives … that it revives “in body” the vital push that livens up her being.
I thank Danièle and Jean-Pierre Rouillon and all the companions of Zoé, Dr. Rabanel and my friends from La main à l’oreille and the Funambules Association without whom, over the years and from these last days of writing, this long journey of love with my daughter would not have been able to lighten up so as to allow me to sing in the present a waltz in three times…
… * Text read in Lille on the artistic exhibition “The world in singular “. In RICOCHET 3 of the Funambules Association, Saturday, May 20, 2017, round table # 3: “The place made to people with autism in the city”
Translated by Lorena Hojman Davis