eye-witnessing altered states

“…images can bear witness to what is not put into words.”

~ peter burke, eyewitnessing: the uses of images as historical evidence
(ithaca: cornell university press, 2001)

Peter Burke’s quote above is not in any way part of an exhibit catalogue or review. I lifted it to describe the intricate works and what look like historico-visual investigations of Brian Dettmer.
Brian Dettmer started his Book Autopsies in 2003, cutting through the z-axis of old books — some supposed to be very old (early 20th century*) — of esoteric subjects as engineering, the applied medical sciences, maps and atlases, and revealing their secrets, putting each in a new light.

There is something addictive in looking at Brian Dettmer’s works online. When I first saw the web reproductions of his works, mostly frontal photos, some isometric, they looked like 3-D collages; the precision of each cut-away quite unbelievable.
I own a few old books myself, acquired from various sources around the Metro, from some people’s yard sales, from some out-of-town acquaintances, flea markets or other serendipitous circumstances, of no particular theme or subject matter. These books are discards of others and they can be had for a song, practically (or a lot of bargaining, if prodding won’t do). I collect old books and other publications for many reasons: for the quality and process of binding, the illustrations, historical value. Sometimes, an old book may be calling out from a pile to be bought, and I heed it. Sometimes, too, I get lucky when quality, historical value and personal interest are all in one book, but luck seems to be more of a reward than mission.
I have also been involved in book publishing and production, and hold the serious book craftsmen — printers, strippers, binders and press operators and the authors themselves  — in high regard.
Brian Dettmer’s works, therefore, offer other ways of seeing, as it were. I find his works to have deconstructed the out-of-the-box concept and makes the popular definition of book arts sound exotic. At the same time, his works make for some kind of tactile time travel, a repurposing of the printed word and re-examination of spaces fused in bound pages. His works are reviewed as harking of Dada sentimentality. He certainly aims to tease and provoke perceptions but perhaps stops short of anything heavily political as to draw up a social manifesto.

 It is always inspiring to know and read about the concretization of someone’s passion. I hope one day to be able personally see a Dettmer exhibit and meet the artist.


References and related links:



View Brian Dettmer’s Flickr site.



Filed under art, book art, brian dettmer, inspiration, repurposing, sculpture

2 responses to “eye-witnessing altered states

  1. ernest pipe

    if you want to find out more about brian dettmer, the man and artist, check this post out

    brian dettmer: book autopsies

    he was so incited by herocious that he personally left a rather lengthy comment that, at times, sounds insulting.

    not sure whom you’ll agree with, dettmer or herocious, but i got a laugh out of it at least.

  2. Hi ernest pipe,

    Thanks for your comment. Appreciate it. I haven’t been able to still open the link for some reason (just tried again today).

    EDIT: 7:19pm (PHI)
    Ok. I just read the blog and the comments.

    I would have easily disagreed with the blog author but the artist himself has ‘spoken’, so there.

    The quote by Peter Burke placed at the top of my blog still sums up my opinions about Brian Dettmer and his works. I would love to see the works personally some day.

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