Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Book Surgeon: Brian Dettmer

A book sculpture by Brian Dettmer. Click to enlarge.

"New York-based Artist Brian Dettmer creates impressively intricate multi-layered sculptures from books. The artist calls himself the Book Surgeon because he uses knives, tweezers, and surgical tools to carve the art works out of old medical journals, illustration books, dictionaries, map books and encyclopedias. The bigger the book, the better – The Surgeon doesn’t add anything additional to the sculptures, he only folds, bends, rolls, stacks, and, of course, removes."

- Both the (above) quote and the photos of Brian Dettmer's book sculptures found in this post were sourced from this 2015 "DeMilked" article.

"So I think one of the reasons people are disturbed by destroying books, people don't want to rip books and nobody really wants to throw away a book, is that we think about books as living things, we think about them as a body, and they're created to relate to our body, as far as scale, but they also have the potential to continue to grow and to continue to become new things. So books really are alive.

... And I think of my work as almost an archaeology. I'm excavating and I'm trying to maximize the potential and discover as much as I possibly can and exposing it within my own work. But at the same time, I'm thinking about this idea of erasure, and what's happening now that most of our information is intangible, and this idea of loss, and this idea that not only is the format constantly shifting within computers, but the information itself, now that we don't have a physical backup, has to be constantly updated in order to not lose it. And I have several dictionaries in my own studio, and I do use a computer every day, and if I need to look up a word, I'll go on the computer, because I can go directly and instantly to what I'm looking up. I think that the book was never really the right format for nonlinear information, which is why we're seeing reference books becoming the first to be endangered or extinct."

- Two quotes from sculptor Brian Dettmer from the (translatable) TED transcript for the TED video below.


Considering all the book-related posts I've been inspired to write for the past few months, it only stands to reason that when I recently discovered the work of Brian Dettmer, I'd be compelled to feature his sculptures here. Considering that his re-purposed books are not, in fact, assemblages, but carefully carved from the pre-existing content of the old books themselves... well, words like "astonishing" are understatements.

And, I love stories like this... about artists doing unimaginable things... totally unprecedented "out of the box" things... not because they intend to start a trendy movement, but because their muses call upon them to do such things, and in doing so - following their muses - we are allowed to see ordinary objects - in this case, encyclopedias and the like - in a totally new, non-linear, and extraordinary way.

For those interested, an interview with Dettmer can be found here...

And, if art from re-cycled material turns you on, here's a nice Make magazine article about the Ancient Futuristic work of artist Theo Kamecke: Old Circuit Boards Are Reimagined as Sarcophagi and Ancient Monuments.


  1. Definitely incredible work and very "Out of the box".

    1. Yes, also intensely meticulous work. I'd say he's an artist with tremendous vision and almost superhuman dedication.