To write Le Classisme, the American artist Joe Scanlan worked with the theoretician Edward Said, not the person but his thought and text. That is, the artist modifies certain words and phrases that appear in the introduction to Said’s Orientalism, deemed one of the founding texts of postcolonial studies. Scanlan’s interventions have been left so that they are still visible in the text. The words he has modified are colored according to a code indicating the kind of change carried out (a shift, alteration, rewriting, transformation, or addition).
Thus, there is a blending of two voices, those of Edward Said and Scanlan, who displaces the author’s original intention. What Scanlan is offering us here is the well-known gesture of employing a set of theoretical tools forged in one field of study and applied in another. Scanlan, however, makes this gesture while also transforming the subject of Said’s study.
Said’s text explains that the term “Orientalism” is an invention of the West, a constructed image imposed on lands that were deemed to be exotic in order to render them understandable and hence control them. Scanlan takes that text and makes it over into an essay that presents the same type of relationship but between contemporary art and popular culture. One imposes a form on the other in order to subject it more effectively to its intentions and point of view. Thus, a meaning is developed that is based literally on Said’s thought, or rather that thinks with him in order to construct a critical point of view on the way contemporary art represents and thus controls the Other.
Unavailable in French until now, Le Classisme is published in conjunction with the Joe Scanlan exhibition and in collaboration with <o> f-u-t-u-r-e <o>. It is also presented at the Villa du Parc in the version designed for display in an art venue.