1517 days, 2017 - presentation and documents
At the origin of the 1517 days project, there is the discovery of the drawings contained in the notebooks held by Alfred Dreyfus during his captivity (published by Artulis in 2009).
Convicted for treason to perpetual deportation in a fortified compound, Captain Dreyfus arrived in Guyana on March 12, 1895. He is immediately transferred to Devil's Island, which he will be the only one to live on, accompanied by his supervisors. "The days are long, alone one-on-one with oneself, without ever saying a word," he writes to his wife. From 1896 onwards, he could no longer walk on the island. Locked in his hut, surrounded by a high palisade preventing him from seeing the sea, he only has his books instead of walk, his tobacco and his guards for only companions. In order for him to be able to write, a blank notebook is provided. Once completed, the notebook was immediately removed and replaced by a new one, preventing him from reading the previous notebooks again. Carefully analysed by the prison administration's management, these thirty-four notebooks were returned to their author in 1900, pardoned by President Loubet. Alfred Dreyfus destroyed twenty of them, leaving only those made during his last year in captivity to posterity.
In these notebooks, gradually, the reading notes, personal thoughts, geometric drawings, English translations and other early calculations give way to drawings with repetitive motifs. Made in ink, they are built around the sign X dressed in organic shapes that build a symmetrical pattern. Many interpretations are possible. But in the context of a confinement system that does not make it possible to envisage the future (the notebooks reread and banned from preservation, the sentence of life imprisonment), these drawings are perhaps less an expression of madness than a way not to sink into it. We can guess that one of the only pleasures of the convict is anchored in this connection between the hand and the brain, in the enjoyment of a repetitive drawing. The prison in French Guiana is a particularly strong subject, finally little known, except in a very simplified, almost folkloric way. Whereas, for those who go there, the industrialization of suffering is freezing. Begun in 1852, the history of the French Guiana convicts seems to prefigure the horrors of the following century.
Fragment of the seventh "Cahiers de l'île du Diable",
Written between November 20 and December 11, 1898 by Alfred Dreyfus in captivity.