Artist Carves Old Books into Intricate Narrative Sculptures

With the exactitude of a neurosurgeon, he uses clamps, tweezers and Exacto knives to turn these unused and outdated objects into beautiful and intricate sculptures.

BY: LORI ZIMMER for Inhabitat.com

Artist Brian Dettmer challenges media that has been cast aside. Old books, cassette tapes, records and maps are the artist’s medium. With the exactitude of a neurosurgeon, he uses clamps, tweezers and Exacto knives to turn these unused and outdated objects into beautiful and intricate sculptures.

Most of Dettmer’s focus is on books, favoring out of date encyclopedias, medical journals, illustration books and dictionaries. He begins carving away arbitrarily at the pages, letting the images reveal themselves as he moves through his process. He seals the edges of the books to ensure precision, which also transforms the splayed edges to look like a smooth and sanded piece of wood.

Carefully extracting bits and pieces, he creates a narrative within the books’ contents, revealing selected sentences and images. The spines are bent and contorted to juxtapose different sections of the books together. No sections are removed or added, Dettmer simply works with the existing structure of each book.

The pages and spines are also manipulated to create new sculptural forms. Dettmer also folds, bends, rolls and stacks multiple books to create a variety of forms.

The resulting beautiful sculptures completely reinterpret the original intention of each book. Dettmer seeks to give these forgotten objects new function and meaning. The ideas the books once put forth are reduced to symbols, with Dettmer acting as the new author, offering a new set of ideas and relationships within the covers of each volume.

Dettmer’s messages range from narrative to political, with spiral sculptures of butterflies from a lepidoptery journal, or a scene of layered illustrated animals from a children’s book. The latter is the subject of a piece called “M.I.A.”, where the artist carefully removed all of the text from a map of the Middle East, his comment on the ignorance of our current political situation.

Dettmer exhibits his sculptures in galleries and museums throughout North America and Europe, breathing new life into media that our fast-paced society has outgrown.