Every now and then I see art that sort of crushes me and elates me at the same time. For example, Brian Dettmer‘s book sculptures. I love books. We might be at the tail end of the book as a form. I understand that, and, if books go extinct, it will probably be for the best. Some people probably regretted the demise of shadow puppet theater, too, but art moves on. Still, I’m torn, and it always kind of kills me to see someone destroying books.
But what he’s making is so beautiful. It’s so hypnotizing. It’s got both literal, visual and metaphorical depth. In an interview on What to Wear to an Orange Alert, Dettmer says he goes looking for heavy, old, reference books. He seals them up on the edges and then starts carving into them, looking for images and words that jump out at him. He doesn’t move anything, but he enables the viewer to see, all at once, words and images that they would have once had to go looking for.
I hate to see a nice book destroyed, but most of these books are “dead,” anyway. That is, as old sources or information, there are newer, more up-to-date, fresher books that people turn to for the same information now. The information in these books may not be useful, except for historical reference.
In a way, Dettmer gives these old books new life by tearing them to pieces. Interestingly, he doesn’t plan ahead. He seals it up and goes digging. It’s an improvisational approach. I’d be curious to see what he came up with if he picked a few images out ahead of time before he got the glue and carving knives out.
I first discovered his books at Centripetal Notion. Centripetal Notion seems to be a popular website with a strong community around it, but this post got 20 times more attention than any of his other recent posts. I think there are a lot of people out there who feel like I do. Books are great! They are still great! Try one! Try one!
Everyone wants you to win their interest at a glance anymore, but if you just glance at a book all you will see is a cover and a spine. So, writers are indebted to Dettmer, for his work in one way. A glance at a book after he’s done with it and you’ll see a little more — there is some exciting stuff in these things. Come see.
BradyDale is the keeper of This Too Will Pass.