May 25, 2009

Le plancher de Jeannot/Jeannot´s floor


picture courtesy of Samuel Guitton, 2 Koc,
he company that made the frames

Three panels mark the entrance of the (psychiatric) Hôpital Sainte Anne in Paris. They once formed together a wooden floor of about fifteen square meters, engraved with a message of eighty lines by a young man named Jeannot. Because the story has so many tragic aspects, his family-name is not made public and he is generally referred to as Jeannot le Béarnois.

The story

Jeannot was born in 1939 in a small community in the Béarn department, in the south of France, where his parents owned a (farm)house on a terrain of some 40 hectares. As a young man, Jeannot may have been a nice, sociable person, but problems arose when in 1959 he had to deal with his fathers suicide.

His mother, Jeannot and one of his sisters continued to live in the house, and the small family gradually became more and more isolated.

Jeannot showed paranoid behavior. Admission in a psychiatric hospital was imposed, but he resisted so violently that authorities did not further intervene. When the mother died in 1971, permission was granted to bury her in the house, "under the staircase", as is reported in all texts I have read.

The next months Jeannot wrote down a text on the wooden floor of the living room. With a hand drill he made small holes which he connected with lines cut out with a gouge or a knife, in this way giving shape to the text in capital. Carving eighty lines of text must have entailed many months of intensive labor.


Soon after completing this job, Jeannot died and maybe he had starved himself to death (1972). Together with his mother he was buried in the local cemetery

The sister continued living in the house, alone, isolated, hardly coming outside. She was found dead in 1993.

The house was sold. The brocanteur who dealt with the furniture, noticed the inscriptions on the floor and informed someone of his family, named dr Guy Roux, a psychiatrist interested in art brut. Dr Roux became the owner of the floor in exchange for a brand new floor he paid the new owner of the house. Later he sold it to the pharmaceutical company Bristol Meyer Squib.

Expositions of the floor

The plancher for the first time was exposed in 2000 during an international psychiatric congress in Paris, as part of an exposition entitled 50 ans d´expression en milieu psychiatrique (50 years of expression in the psychiatric setting). Some years later the plancher was exposed in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, which gave rise to a heated public debate (is it acceptable to present as a work of art what someone in great psychic need gave expression to?)

Due also to the cooperation of Dr Jean Pierre Olié, professor of psychiatry and chief psychiatrist of Ste Anne Hospital, it was arranged that the floor, cut in three parts, from 2007 on is on display at the entrance of a department of the hospital in the rue Cabanis.

rue Cabanis (streetview)

The present installation of the plancher on the Cabanis street might be temporary, because as I understand there are plans to make the hospital more open by renovating the main entrance. The carved floor by 2010 could get there its ultimate location, hopefully in a less caged and more respectful way of presentation ¹.

The text

The text as written on the floor can be found in french on the website Tryangle. When in may 2009 I wrote this post, I had not yet found an english translation, so I made one myself (see my collection of texts on outsider environments).

It says in general that religion is the cause of evil in society, and the church uses electronic devices to influence the minds of men.

Documentation
* Dr Guy Roux, Françoise Stijepovic (photo's), Histoire du plancher de Jeannot, drame de la terre ou puzzle de la tragédie, Éditions Encre et Lumière, 2005.
* Photo´s of the wooden floor by photographer Martin d'Orgeval have been collected in a book entitled Requisitoire, Paris (ed. du Regard), 2007 and have been exposed in the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris and the Maison de la Photographie, Lille (spring 2008).
* Perrine le Querrec, Le plancher, Le Mans (Ed Les doigts dans la prose), 2013 (a literary account of Jeannot and his family)

note:
¹ it is not clear if this plan has been realized

Le plancher de Jeannot 
(exposed outside:)
Hôpital Sainte Anne
rue Cabanis
5014 Paris, France

7 comments:

  1. This is a hugely moving and interesting story. Unfortunately I can't open the link with the english translation.. I'd love to get an idea as to what was written... thank you for a brilliant post!

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  2. Don't you see thet the "frames" are a prison?
    Free Jeannot!
    In french: cette installation est une horreur.

    Ani

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  3. Thanks Watercats, I noticed the link to the english text does not work. Will see how I can find a solution.
    Best, Henk

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  4. Hello Ani, Yss I see what you mean, and I agree. I tried to write this note in a non-partisan way,but probably too sophisticated with regard to the way the creation is presented....

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  5. Quite moving indeed. What make somebody to isolate himself from world? Certainly was Jeannot a very sensitive fragile soul (and not that obtuse classifications the psychiatrist use to sort the people with)Certainly something crumbled down within him and the world began to be a hostile place of which he needed to protect from.

    Sometimes when not in the right place and when not receiving at least a little part of that what you expected from life, the little trifle from the world may start to overpass you, and is your own imagination the shelter in where you wish to remain, safe from the outer threats. All threats may be real in everyone´s single experience, is a matter of focus and yes, tolerance. Men years can be centuries for the ants.

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  6. Hi Henk !
    This is an absolutely amazing story that I'd certainly never heard... don't know how you dig up some of these subjects, but I'm glad to be following your blog, for sure ! Will have to make a detour to Sainte Anne, that's not far from here. Incredible how he carved all those letters...

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  7. Hi Owen,
    In case you make a detour to Saint Anne's, I wonder what youre opinion is about the way the work is presented.

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