The First Runaway

Introduction by Alexis Vaillant




In the 1880s, Albert Dadas was living in Bordeaux. He worked for the then flourishing Bordeaux Gas Company. But from one day to the next he vanished, without a word to anyone. He was 26. A year later, in July 1887, Philippe Tissié, a medical intern in Dr Albert Pitres´ clinic, discovered a young man prostrate on a bed in the Saint-André Hospital in Bordeaux. He duly talked to him. The stranger told him that he was just back from a long journey, and all he wanted to do now was set off again. That young man, by the name of Albert Dadas, had just been arrested by the police for vagrancy. But the hospital doctors had diagnosed madness combined with runaway impulses. They regarded Albert Dadas´s dromomania-the obsession with moving, in the terminology of the day-as a mental disorder. Dadas was in reality suffering from one of the earliest cases of“transitional mental illness”. He was suffering from what Charcot would call “epileptic runaway madness”. The study of mental illness and the burgeoning exploration of the unconscious were then taking place in a Europe that was witnessing the gradual mechanization of travel methods. While the now familiar forms of post-aristocratic tourism were being invented, hand-in-hand with the train, obsessive errancy disturbed people. Dr. Tissié, for his part, was very interested in his patient´s tales and ramblings, and wrote his medical dissertation about Dadas, along with many other papers. But if Dadas was to go beyond his own projections, which, in particular, combined identity issues with travel fantasies, Philippe Tissié would have to resort to hypnosis. This was how Dadas came to describe his journeys in detail. The doctor duly discovered that his patient sometimes covered up to 40 miles a day, that he had gone from the south of France to Moscow, by the way, notably, of Austria, Turkey and Algeria; that he would lose his identity papers, which enabled him to roam in a state of amnesia as to who he was, and meant that he could move “freely” from one place of detention to the next…


Albert Dadas was first and foremost a runaway. His case study labeled him as a “pathological tourist”. He was the first. This uncontrollable and obsessive way of travelling without any apparent destination or aim, and with almost unfathomable memory gaps, lies at the root of the fascination that Albert Dadas´s story holds for the Swedish artist Johan Furåker (born in 1978). This latter came upon Albert Dadas´ story while he was a student at the Malmö Academy. This discovery involved readingMad Travellers: Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illness (1998), a book written by the Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking, which prompted Furåker to paint the life of Albert Dadas-what he must have seen, experienced and lived through. The resulting small-format oil paintings and graphite drawings are hallmarked by a turn-of-the-century illustrative style. In them we find mechanization, technical progress, a pre-industrial world, symbolic landscapes, the spirit of the earliest “advertisement” and genre scenes. Such an undertaking would be anachronistic had Johan Furåker´s visions of Albert Dadas´ life not arrived a century after its subject. These almost photographic pictures are hyper-realistic, as if passed through filters. Furåker´s works come from other images. From post cards and found views, and even views imagined by the artist himself, from Dadas´s own accounts, from medical interpretations, and from police statements… The fact that the Dadas archives held in Bordeaux contain almost no photographs raises this whole conceptual cycle to the rank of mental images, given that Furåker produced the images of an imageless memory.Johan Furåker´s exhibition The First Runawaycan, for its part, also be seen as a contemporary version of Albert Dadas´ wanderings. An odysseynarrated by a patient and a psychiatrist at the turn of the 20th century, deciphered and analyzed by a philosopher of the science of memory in the late 1990s, and seen, in the latter half of the 2000s, by a Swedish artist seized by this imageless story, to whom these images today belong. Various levels of sources and interpretations interfering with the determination of what is real and what is not are thus questioned.In an age of global tourism, this Bordeaux heritage, virtually unknown outside psychiatric circles, still circulates. The story comes back to Bordeaux in itsextended version, now.


Alexis Vaillant

Curator of the exhibition The First Runaway at the CAPC.Chief Curator at the CAPC, Bordeaux, France.

The text was published in the catalogue for the exhibition The First Runaway at the CAPC, Bordeaux, France.