The Jerusalem Letter

  • About
  • A remake: The Jerusalem Letter
    Digital prints 115 x 200 cm, 130 x 200 cm
    Photo prints on archive paper 24 x 30 cm, 2014


    The stories that unfold in these scams are part of a literary tradition known as the Jerusalem Letter, and previously known as the Spanish Prisoner. Jerusalem letters refer to a swindle that originated in France at the end of the 18th century, the mechanisms of which Eugène-François Vidocq has explained in his book The Thieves published in 1836. These letters, which have widely influenced present day scams, tell the stories of lords and their servants fleeing the events of the great history of the French Revolution.

    The narratives produced by the scams are part of a literary tradition. Previously known as the Spanish Prisoner in the 16th century, this scam is then introduced in France at the end of the 18th century, following the French Revolution, then called the letter of Jerusalem. These letters were very similar to present-day scams and told the tale of troubled lords and their servants, fleeing and looking to retrieve a treasure with the help of the recipient, seemingly the “only remaining trustworthy person.” Eugene-François Vidocq strips down the mechanisms of this scam in his book Les voleurs (The Thieves) published in 1836, subtitled: “A study that reveals all of the ruses used by thieves, and destined to become the vade mecum of all honest folk.” According to Vidocq, these letters express the nostalgia of the Ancient Regime felt by some of the French after the French Revolution. Their name originates from the fact that most of these con artists were imprisoned near Paris, in the Bicêtre jailhouse, partially located in “rue de Jerusalem”.

    This type of scam seems to have appeared at specific historical moments, as if their existence mechanism depended on imagination, a particular situation, and contexts that allow certain forms to arise and prosper.

    This scam is spread in various manners. First circulating orally then as a letter, this scam is now faxed, printed or photocopied, and develops spectacularly with the help of the Internet, establishing a contemporary version of the scam, like a remake, two centuries later.

    The text comes from a Letter of Jerusalem dating back to 1793, extracted from Vidocq’s book and is reworked through a very specific pixelated device that integrates different means of diffusion in time and creates a spatial perspective that manipulates distances within the exhibition space.