Against all racist prejudices, an impressive text just written by Arno Stern :
In 1950, my Thursday Academy was located in the attractive district of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and 150 children came there every week. It was a daily flood of images, a torrent of enthusiasm among those who let them emanate from them. I was the initiator and the available witness, without preconceived ideas, open to incessant discovery.
All the children represented the same things. I made an inventory of them, it was the first stage of an incessant revelation. I looked for the reason, and I began by thinking: all these children, whether they came from Germany, Italy, Switzerland, or Greece… have grown up in cities where they are surrounded by the same things. So was it what they have in common that defined this repertoire that I had detected?
But I came to think: Not all children are city dwellers, not all are surrounded by the same things. I was thinking of the nomads in the desert, the inhabitants of the virgin forest. Would they represent the same objects? No one could answer me. Because no one had asked this question.
My study of Trace continued. I discovered all its components and mechanisms. Then I had to discover one of the fundamental characteristics of this manifestation that I was witnessing: its multiple character: the existence, under the layer of Image Objects, of the layer of Traces. Making an inventory of them and determining their role does not mean interpreting them, but it does reveal their originality.
The components of the Formulation are inexhaustible. Their tracings – whether they are uncovered, as in a small child and also in an adult, or wrapped in Image Objects, as in an older child, are imposed as soon as the person has regenerated his Spontaneity. Spontaneity was preserved in the children I later met in the faraway lands I visited, with a knowledge that determined my attitude.
I went all over the world, in deserts, in virgin forest, in high altitude regions, among the last populations that had been preserved from schooling, having kept their traditions, a hereditary culture determining their traditional way of life.
I had nothing to explain. I set up the Table-Pallet, I put down, next to it, a pile of paper sheets that I had brought in my suitcase. No one was surprised; no one hesitated. They took a brush and drew. And this gesture was perfect, even though they were crouching to do it. In the rainforest in Peru, I had the opportunity to fix the leaves to the bamboo walls of my habitat. In Niger, the leaves were fixed to an earthen wall, into which it was easy to drive my safety pins. In the photographs that captured this adventure, with the Table-Pallet in the foreground and the busy children in front of their leaves, it looks like a scene in the Closlieu.
Tirelessly, they painted every day, and at other times I distributed small sheets and they drew with ballpoint pens, sitting in my habitat; and the piles of their drawings grew in front of each one, and I collected them in the pockets with their names and dates on them.
I was as sad as they were when, after a week, they came to pick me up. The game shouldn’t have stopped and after a week in a Fulani hamlet in Niger I was able to return to that village and allow a few more days of adventure before leaving the country.
I’ve made similar trips to various regions. I would have liked them to be extended and not limited to a passing adventure. But as they took place, they prove the universality of the Formulation, beyond all cultural differences.
In this way, something fundamental is demonstrated: this trace, which emanates from the depths of the being, expresses the human foundation: the adventure of its formation and development, before its adaptation to the environmental conditions that shape its culture, is absolutely the same, in all humans, whatever their origin, the living conditions in their environment. This impressive universality erases all the usual positions, which are based on a scale of acculturation of which we would be the summit and from which results either a definitive contempt or a generous consideration.
Without having foreseen these social, even political consequences, the Semiology of Expression allows us to demonstrate in a spectacular way the universality of Formulation.
On my return from New Guinea, my wife and I went to meet Albert Jacquard, director of the National Institute of Demographic Studies. I showed him some documents from my travels, and he exclaimed: “You bring the only tangible proof that there aren’t more human races”
(c) Arno Stern, July 2020
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)