Whatever discourse it contains, the book is also — and perhaps above all — the form whose heuristic value, in the digital era, is buried in the hollow of visual potentialities that American artist Brian Dettmer is interested in (literally) digging out. Armed with tweezers and a craft knife, with sure and precise gestures dictated by chance, Dettmer meticulously carves into books whose edges have been sealed with varnish. His sculptures, the result of an approach that he calls “archaeological,” involve a poetic recycling of memories materialized in disused books; his substantive transformations are truly awe-inspiring to see. They provoke a displacement of the gaze through interventions performed on the phenomenological percepts of the object’s constitutive structure. The idea is to re-enchant the materiality of the book, to have a different meaning emerge from it — one that is not to the detriment of the book-object, but that works with it to perpetuate its form, to re-trouble it. Dettmer’s palimpsest works are shaped from existing books without any element being moved or added. The order thus preserved is enhanced by the artist’s interpretation, which is combined with the original meaning of what is in the book but doesn’t completely overwhelm it. While the interventions performed on the exterior of the books (using weights and clamps) are generally aimed at contorting their structure by forcing them to take new shapes, those performed on the interior of the books explore the layered potentialities between the pages. This presents unexpected relationships between words and images as a stratified whole. Dettmer plays with the temporal resources of the book — leafing through it, reading it — and with its sequential structure in signatures proposes a reflection on its status and the authority with which it is invested, both of which supply the impetus for a technique guided by a feeling of erasure, of inherent loss of the present cultural context, in which the intangibility of information dominates.
Translated from the French by Käthe Roth