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Brian Dettmer: Book Autopsies

June 29th, 2010 by karenmartin

Recently I’ve written about a few artists who combine cut-outs with books (Yukon Terya, Nicholas Jones and Chisato Tamabayashi to name three..) and Brian Dettmer fits right into that category. For The Book Autopsies Brian takes old books which have ceased to be valued for their content and gives them new life as art objects. The books are cut by hand and no text or image is repositioned to create the final ‘autopsy’. Beautiful, pain-staking work.

A blog post from 2007 on centripedalnotion.com contains a statement from the Toomey-Tourell Fine Art website (one of the galleries who represent Brian Dettmer) about the process of making this work. I couldn’t find the statement on the website but included it anyway because I think it gives an insight into the motivation and the method.

Explanation of Book Dissections-

In this work I begin with an existing book and seal its edges, creating an enclosed vessel full of unearthed potential. I cut into the cover of the book and dissect through it from the front. I work with knives, tweezers and other surgical tools to carve one page at a time, exposing each page while cutting around ideas and images of interest. Nothing inside the books is relocated or implanted, only removed. Images and ideas are revealed to expose a book’s hidden, fragmented memory. The completed pieces expose new relationships of a book’s internal elements exactly where they have been since their original conception.


Brian Dettmer is represented by Packer Schopf Gallery, Chicago, Toomey-Tourell Fine Art, San Francisco and Haydee Rovirosa. There are more images on these websites and on Brian’s Flickr stream.

Cut-outs, book artists and bookleteer

Reading a boing boing post about Brian’s work I was interested in a commenter who said they would prefer Brian to make their own books to treat in this way and not use discarded books. While I think (as was pointed out by someone else in the comments) that this kind of goes against the concept of Brian’s work I think it’s an interesting idea in relation to bookleteer.

As with the pop-up eBook I’m working on, it would be possible to design a bookleteer cutout book where the designer does not cut the book but produces an eBook template showing where it should be cut in order to complete the book. How does this alter the idea of book-as-object and the role of book artist when the work of making the book is completed by the person who downloads it?

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