Brian Dettmer: Book Autopsies

by Elizabeth on November 3, 2007 · 1 comment

in Art, Cool stuff

Beautiful altered books are among my most favourite things. There’s something special about a completed work of art contained between two covers, one piece of art derived from another. I’m sure it’s all tied into my paper journal addiction, and my general respect for books. I don’t like to see a book destroyed unless it’s for a truly good purpose.

Brian Dettmer is somebody destroying books for a good purpose.


Winston, 2007
Altered book
8-1/2 x 7-1/2 x 2 inches

Brian Dettmer’s carved books are intricate creations, which seek both to seduce the eye and provoke the mind. Through the cut open cover of a book the viewer sees layers of specifically selected text and illustration carved from the pages of the book. Through the gaps in an architectural drawing or perhaps the chambers of the human heart, one can see a word peeking through, perhaps a clue to the larger meanings of the piece. These pieces seek to bridge the gap between a medium’s form and its message. Dettmer manages to use the contrasting layers of image and text to explore the conveyance of information, as well as being able to get the viewer to examine what that can mean.

via Packer Gallery


New International Dictionary 1947/2003


Gray’s Anatomy, 2002

Brian Dettmer has been busy. For his second solo show at Aron Packer Gallery, Dettmer has transformed discarded maps, atlases, books, encyclopedia sets, and even cassette tapes into super obsessive and compelling artwork. For the Altered States series, he has taken regional maps and cut the land away leaving only major interstates and highways, which he then layers on top of each other between pieces of glass. The effect is a 3-D road map that is visually stunning from the effect of crisp cuts, layering, and shadow play.

M.I.A., another intricate map work, eliminates any hint of text from a map of the Middle East. With the current events in the region this extraction of content can be read many ways. The extraction manifests an easier, more minimal landscape becoming more universal and less specific-but it’s also a metaphor for the ignorance of our current political situation

Also phenomenal is a set of encyclopedias that stands vertically. Pages have been carved one book at a time from top to bottom, leaving only the hard covers, leaving the shape of a contained figure that is ambiguous and universal while at the same time inhuman or otherworldly.

Dettmer’s work creates new relationships and meanings that emerge from the alteration of text and image, through sculptural subtraction and forces the viewer to respond with their own loaded feelings and views.

via Packer Gallery

I would love to post a bunch of images of his work, because each of them is so unique, but this post would quickly become enormous. Instead, I suggest that you head to Centripetal Notion and check out the great article that Justin Ruckman has written about him there. There’s even a message from the artist within the comments.

With thanks to:

Brian Dettmer on Wikipedia
Centripetal Notion
Packer Gallery

OK, a few more wouldn’t hurt. Besides, it’s a good way to test how the “more” tag behaves in my RSS feed. Click the link below to view a few more images.



Living Past
9 x 6 x 2 ins
altered book


History of Western Europe, 2007
Altered book
7-5/8 x 5-1/2 x 1-1/2 inches


Log, 2007
Altered book
9 x 5-1/4 x 4 inches

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Helen Maharaj December 4, 2011 at 10:49 pm



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