Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Revisions and Queries by Charles Gute

It is drawing to the end of the year and here sits a large stack of books from Paris and others that arrived over the threshold that need to be dealt with. One that has jumped to the head of the queue is a book that arrived just a couple days ago. It is getting preferential treatment simply because I have been smitten by it. It is one that I would rank very high on my list of PhotoBooks of the Year for 2008 except that -- it isn't a photography book. Charles Gute's Revisions and Queries from The Ice Plant should not be overlooked.

Charles Gute has made his living as a free-lance editor and proof-reader for art books. This entails correcting PDF documents using computer software and making standard copy editing notations to indicate suggested corrections and changes. He remarks that the marked up pages, with their often complicated diagrams, resembled something along the lines of conceptual art. Then in 2004, after his computer hard drives crashed wiping out hundreds of files and corrupting thousands of others, he discovered several where the original texts had vanished and all that was left were his copyediting notations of the mistakes, or what he described as a, "constellation of revisions, comments and queries."

Revisions and Queries presents 51 of these documents as they appeared as single pages after the crash. Stray words and the array of symbols that make up copyediting shorthand become design savvy and often amusing compositions that at times seem to resonate with the artist's work featured in the original (now invisible) text. The most pleasant aspect for me is that this is really art created by chance. By taking ownership of the mistakes of others and his own notated corrections, Gute has combined material that served as a portrait of an artist with his own self portrait, all woven together into a fascinating series of unpredictable tapestries.

Gute is as good an editor of these works on paper as he apparently is as a copyeditor. At no point does Revisions and Queries grow stale nor does it feel at all repetitive. Each drawing stands on its own as an individual pleasure and by the last page I eagerly turned back to the first for another run.

The Ice Plant has published a variety of artbooks over the past few years including Mike Slack's Scorpio and OK OK OK and Jason Fulford's Raising Frogs for $$$. Revisions and Queries is in keeping with their clean and hip design. I had not previously believed in perfection, but after Charles' book I may have to rethink that.

PS: Charles, if you happen to read this, please copyedit the above paragraphs and send me the results. I am certain that my amateurish scribblings could provide you with another book's worth of material.