Books Become Art

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For over 10 years, Brian Dettmer has been making art out of old books.

Now, some of his work is close to home, with an exhibit called “Art of Facts” on display in the Schingoethe Center at Aurora University.

Each of his sculptures starts as one or more complete books. After setting them in the shape he wants the final sculpture to have, he coats them in acrylic varnish and carves, layer by layer, page by page into the book. He leaves images, shapes, and words he finds interesting and removes everything else, creating detailed sculptures with incredible depth.

“It’s a completely sculptural, substractive process. It’s almost a metaphor for reading because as I’m carving through I don’t know what I’m going to come across. It’s an excavation,” says Brian Dettmer, artist of “Art of Facts.” “I’m not adding any color or doing any drawing. I want the book to become a collaborator with me.”

Some of his sculptures are large, made up of over a dozen books intertwined or woven together. But his style had humbler beginnings.

“He walked into my first gallery with three books in his hand, and they were all rectangular versions of what he’s doing now. There’s one book when you walk in, it’s a book that’s sealed and a window cut out of it,” said Aron Packer, owner of Packer Projects. “If what he’s doing now is number 99, this was number 10, really simple.”

Brian has always worked with old, nonfiction books, primarily reference material like encyclopedias and dictionaries. These are books that either contain information that’s outdated, or have been made obsolete thanks to the Internet.

“All the information you see in these books you can most likely find online almost instantly, but there’s something about the tactile feeling of the book itself that’s more immediate, more intimate, and this is a new way to investigate this material in a new and interesting way,” said Michael Dinges, an artist. “You literally get to dive into a book as a material object.”

“He speaks a lot about what is happening in the digital era, what is happening in this information age, how are we getting our information and how is it affecting us?” said Meg Bero, Executive Director of the Schingoethe Center. “It’s taking a dichotomy of destroying books to say something more about them.”

For hundreds of years, books were the primary way that people stored, shared, and referenced information.

Now, they’re a threatened medium, leaving Brian with lots of material to work with.

“By working with books I want people to look at the physicality, look at the architecture and structure of the information that we have had experiences with in the past, and really question what’s happening now that information is losing its physicality, losing its tangibility now that it’s all online and needs to be constantly updated,” said Brian.

His work makes obsolete books worth reading into again.

“Art of Facts” is on display in the Schingoethe Center at Aurora University until late April.

Naperville News 17’s Blane Erwin reports.