Piezo print on canvas, 47 x 36"
Like Gute’s other text-based works, Whitewash Wordswap obliquely references the artist’s freelance day job as an editor of books and periodicals. Here Gute presents a fairly straightforward copyedit of a random page from the white supremacist book RAHOWA! (an acronym for “racial holy war”). Not only does Gute correct standard grammar and usage, but he makes editorial suggestions that would soften the text’s inflammatory tone, substituting overtly racist terms with blandly euphemistic phrases like “our culturally diverse friends.” In this way, a text that essentially calls for mass genocide is made—at least in a superficial sense—more “palatable.”
This linguistic exercise draws attention to white supremacism’s inherently malignant agenda, yet it also has broader implications in terms of the power of language to gloss over or even to promote repugnant ideas. In some ways the work brings to mind the previous presidential administration’s strategic repackaging of language, wherein emotionally charged phrases such as “civilian casualties” become “collateral damage,” or a bill proposing relaxed emissions standards might be called the “clear skies initiative.” By making such rhetorical manipulations transparent, Gute’s work is a cautionary reminder that there is a fine line between modern-day PR spin and George Orwell’s admonition that “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
Charles Gute is a New York-based artist and editor. He has been awarded artist fellowships from the San Francisco Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and has twice been a MacDowell Colony Fellow. His work has been in group exhibitions at venues including the Berkeley Art Museum (Berkeley), ZKM (Karlsruhe, Germany), the UCLA Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), Galerie Feinkost (Berlin), Ronald Feldman Gallery (Chicago), and Brown Gallery (London). Solo exhibitions include “Find-A-Text,” Jason Rulnick, Inc., New York, 2008; and “The Corrections,” Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco, 2010. A hardcover monograph on Gute’s work, Revisions and Queries, was published by The Ice Plant, Los Angeles.