Brian Dettmer

Extending the life of books through art

United States 6 Apr, 2018. Photos by Anders Ahlgren.

Brian Dettmer creates art with books and gives them a new context. Through his art, he strive to highlight the digital advancement, the digital presence and how the idea of personal integrity is shifting. He hopes that people begin to think about their relationship to books and how it has changed over the years.

The New York-based artist Brian Dettmer developed his own art form focusing on how we absorb information in today's’ society. Brian uses a self-developed technique where he carves into old books and gives them new life.

– I have spent the last fifteen years refining my method. I carve in books and cut around pictures, page after page, and let them tell a new fragmented story. It works a little bit like our own memory, says Brian.

Brian has always been fascinated with books and watched how their value has changed over the years. From being the primary source for new information, to a trophy in the bookshelf or as a point on the to do list.


– Part of my work is about the loss of what have been. Since immemorial times, the book has been an independent object and source of information. Today, thanks to the internet, we experience that we have a much stronger voice of opinion and easier access to information; at the same time our voices are being filtered through social media that we have little control over. It also caused us to being dependent of staying constantly connected, says Brian.

"Since immemorial times, the book has been an independent object and source of information"


Destruction leads to new interpretation

For Brian, every old antique store is an opportunity to find new material. He tells that he can spend several hours just exploring old literature. Usually he uses outdated encyclopedias and other reference literature.

– I often use books that had a previous life and do not fill the same purpose as it used to. I always make sure that there is at least a 1000 copies left of that particular book before I start carving. Since my work, technically speaking, means that I will destroy the book. In a way, it is a materialistic loss that gives the book a new meaning that hopefully makes people think about the effects of digitization, says Brian.

The book is Brian’s primary source of inspiration in his creative process.

– In a way, it’s almost predestined that my main inspiration is the book itself because of the technique I use. Otherwise, I get inspiration from media theories, philosophy, and other artists that created extraordinary work with the help of simple means, says Brian.




Different value to different people

Brian hopes that his art make people think about books and its use. His art is open to free interpretation. He also wants to open up to the fact that there is always going to be a point in the process where you have no control over your piece and the interpretation lies in the eyes of the beholder.

– I like that anyone can take part in my art and make their own interpretation, from children to people having a PhD in media theory. As an artist or writer, it’s impossible to control what people think about one’s work. Not even the writers of the books that I transform had any idea or control over that I manipulated their work. But in the end, I would like the viewers to think about what books mean to them and what value they have today, says Brian.


Name: Brian Dettmer
Title: Sculptor
Favorite material: Books
Favorite tool: X-Acto knife