Works in Progress - Winter 2012

Literal Dissection

By Chloe Taft | March 21, 2013


Unless you’re a librarian, this won’t hurt a bit. Atlanta-based artist Brian Dettmer, sometimes called “the book surgeon,” routinely takes scalpel to spine with extraordinary results. Dettmer’s sculptures begin with sealed books, usually out-of-date reference tomes such as surgical guides or art histories. Using knives, tweezers, and surgical tools, Dettmer carves one page at a time, dissecting around images and ideas of interest. “Nothing inside the books is relocated or implanted, only removed,” he says. The product is a work of Dada-esque chance. “It’s almost like reading with a knife. I can’t control everything that I’m going to come across, but I can react to it.”

Dettmer has been altering books since 2001 on an increasing scale. The sculptures can take up to several months to complete. “American Peoples,” 2011, tackles an entire 1953 encyclopedia set, standing five feet tall and reaching a foot out from the wall. The piece transforms a functional reference into a cultural artifact. Dettmer also sees his work as a disruption of the linear form of printed material, relics of an earlier era. “In a way, it’s pointing out what’s happening digitally a lot right now,” he says. “We’re constantly losing information.”

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