Destroying Books in Order to Save Them

One of the recurrent themes you’ll find here on the Late Age of Print blog is the “end of the book.”  Usually when I raise this I’m talking about printed books and the relationship they share to e-readers and other forms of digital technology.  And usually when I go down that road, I end up saying something to the effect of, “however popular e-books may become, printed books won’t ever go away entirely.”veroxybd.com

But today, thanks to a friend on Facebook who shared a fascinating blog post with me, I want to approach the “end of the book” theme from a different angle — where destroying a printed book may actually give it a completely new lease on life.

The post, “The Book Surgeon,” showed up a few days ago on My Modern Met. It consists mostly of photographs of the work of artist Brian Dettmer, who, using “using knives, tweezers, and surgical tools,” transforms old encyclopedias, medical journals, dictionaries, and other weighty reference matter into intricately detailed sculptures.  Here are a few images to show you what I mean:

Amazing, eh?  The post goes on to note — and this shouldn’t come as a surprise — that carving these books involves painstaking work.  Proceeding a single layer at a time, “Dettmer manipulates the pages and spines to form the shape of his sculptures.”  There’s also no cutting and pasting of material from one point in a book to another.  In other words, everything that appears in each sculpture is ostensibly in its original location.

I wish I could watch Dettmer at work, since I imagine he must proceed with equal parts planning and serendipity.  Curious to learn more about his process, I checked out his artist’s statement where he says this:

The age of information in physical form is waning. As intangible routes thrive with quicker fluidity, material and history are being lost, slipping and eroding into the ether. Newer media swiftly flips forms, unrestricted by the weight of material and the responsibility of history. In the tangible world we are left with a frozen material but in the intangible world we may be left with nothing. History is lost as formats change from physical stability to digital distress.

Nicely put — and what an apt way in which to frame a body of work that so beautifully illustrates the principle of creative destruction.

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