Magazine article Sculpture

Brian Dettmer Paging through Time

Magazine article Sculpture

Brian Dettmer Paging through Time

Article excerpt

How can history, memory, and cultural knowledge become the materials of sculpture? In Brian Dettmer's hands, books that have lost their original function do just that. Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference volumes represent the physicality of gathered knowledge with their moving pages, solid bindings, and words and illustrations. Yet many of these tomes have become defunct, their content outdated and their role in the accumulation and acquisition of information increasingly taken over by digital tools such as search engines and wikis. Dettmer gives a new life to such supplanted books, transforming them into tangible evidence of the past-a past revealed to be highly subjective. His book sculptures reveal how Western culture gathered and digested facts once upon a time - and what and who were considered important. "The format and structure of the book had a large impact on the limited ways we could record and share ideas through texts and images," he observes. "The codex has an inherent linear quality that is now able to be broken free by the structure of the Internet and other non-linear formats. New media allows us to absorb ideas in endless directions, which is greatly beneficial but can also become a slippery slope"

Alyson Kuhn, editor of Art Made from Books (to which Dettmer contributed a foreword), observes: "Today, reference books that have outlived their usefulness as sources of information are treasure-troves for contemporary book artists...These artists turn books into new objects in their own right...sculptural works that evoke a visual pleasure and challenge our understanding of what a book has been and what it should be" Dettmer's work can be situated within this new tradition of using books as material and medium. "While studying art in Chicago, I became aware of artists like Buzz Spector and Melissa Jay Craig who created conceptual work that approached the object of the book in a more visceral or sculptural way," he recalls. Dettmer's approach not only subverts the familiar materiality of the book, but also invites viewers to dive beneath its surface - literally as well as figuratively. His totems, towers, fragments, and wheels speak to the fragility of what constitutes "truth" and the malleability of what stands the test of time as fact. In Dettmer's studio, standard encyclopedia and illustrated dictionary sets, former fixtures in mid-century homes, and the history reference sets that were staples in school libraries find a more positive and enduring fate than the landfill.

A native of the Chicago area, Dettmer studied art at Columbia College Chicago. But his penchant for cast-offs goes back further, to his boyhood. He and his brother enjoyed dumpster diving and were particularly drawn to discarded books, bringing them home to delve into their pictures and stories. This early experience, with its sense of adventure and curiosity, planted the seed for Dettmer's aesthetic and conceptual fascination with discarded objects and their potential for "resurrection, revitalization, and rebirth" Now living in Brooklyn, he is represented by P-P-O-W, in Manhattan's Chelsea gallery district; his work, which has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions at museums and galleries internationally, is on view through April 28, 2017 at the Schingoethe Center of Aurora University in Illinois.

Dettmer began carving into books in earnest around the year 2000. Volumes with great visual, historical, and conceptual content were his prime candidates - old books of knowledge rendered obsolete by the digital age. "The content is out of date," he says, "but more importantly, the delivery method or material has become superseded." He began sealing up the edges of individual books, turning each one into "an enclosed vessel full of unearthed potential" Carving first through the cover, then into the pages, the lure of discovery kept him moving from one page to the next, with no predetermined plan or set idea of what would emerge. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.