Art, Books December 15, 2010 By Jennifer Pappas

Brian Dettmer Civilisation Part 1 2010 Altered Book 10" x 8-1/2" x 1-5/8" Image courtesy of the Artist and MiTO Gallery

Civilisation Part 1, 2010, Altered Book 10, Image courtesy of the Artist and MiTO Gallery

We need to question when exploration can become exploitation, and when a search for information falls into a search for power and other resources. The title is lifted from a book of the same name by Richard Halliburton from 1929. I saw the spine, “New World to Conquer, Halliburton” and the disturbing parallels between the beginning of the 20th century and the 21st just clicked.

How did the whole concept of carving into books begin?
When I was in school I was a painter. My work dealt with language, translations, limits of communication, and codes. I began working with old book pages for the surfaces of my canvas. I liked the idea of information being contained, yet impossible to decipher. I had a Eureka moment one day when I was working with some orphaned encyclopedias I’d found in a thrift store. I was sealing the edges so they were like solid bricks, then carving holes into the surface. I came across a landscape and began carving around it without thinking. A figure emerged a few pages below and I carved around that too. I was reading with a knife, and didn’t want to stop. The process of discovery was exciting and made sense with what was beginning to happen to books as computers started replacing a good amount of their function.

What do you look for in a book?
The material needs to have a history. It needs to have been functional at one point. You can feel it, and see it in the patina of the cover and the browning of the paper. The next thing is the title and content, size, weight, paper type, and design of the book. The title and content need to tie into my process so that my intervention runs parallel, or merges into the idea behind the original piece.

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