Artist Takes Old Books and Gives Them New Life as Intricate Sculptures

New York-based artist Bri­an Dettmer cuts into old books with X‑ACTO knives and turns them into remixed works of art. Speak­ing at TED Youth last Novem­ber, he told the audi­ence, “I think of my work as sort of a remix .… because I’m work­ing with some­body else’s mate­r­i­al in the same way that a D.J. might be work­ing with some­body else’s music.” “I carve into the sur­face of the book, and I’m not mov­ing or adding any­thing. I’m just carv­ing around what­ev­er I find inter­est­ing. So every­thing you see with­in the fin­ished piece is exact­ly where it was in the book before I began.”


Dettmer puts on dis­play his pret­ty fan­tas­tic cre­ations, all while explain­ing how he sees the book — as a body, a tech­nol­o­gy, a tool, a machine, a land­scape, a case study in archae­ol­o­gy. The talk runs six min­utes and deliv­ers more than the aver­age TED Talk does in 17.

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Comments (4)
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  • Peter says:

    It is quite clever, but what books is he chop­ping up? Why does­n’t he do this to some of the new mass-pro­duced books that are clog­ging up library shelves?

  • Luke says:

    Lon­don-based artist Lin­da Toi­go makes sim­i­lar art­works with books and mag­a­zines:

  • Donna Render says:

    When I saw the bri­tan­nic­ca ency­clo­pe­dias that were carved. Then I laughed but this makes per­fect­ly good sense. Can’t sell them nor give them away. To donate them, they will end up in a land­pile some­where. I real­ly would like if you took my set that I bought in the 80s and do them the same way. You would­n’t even have to ship them back to me. Sculp­ture them just as beau­ti­ful! Just send the copy of the pho­to to me online, so that I could make a blowup poster and keep for me to admire and to dis­play it and make it as a con­ver­sa­tion piece. Sort of like the end of a era and a final seper­a­tion of the heart and depre­ci­a­tion of my hard earned mon­ey. Before I release them to you as a great artist and scup­tur­er. Is this some­thing you can do for me at no cost? Please respond back. Love to hear your take on this!

  • Suzanne Deal-Fitzgerald says:

    Weed­ing is a nec­es­sary evil in pub­lic libraries. A few years ago, a friend had fin­ished a long project dig­i­tiz­ing ref­er­ence books for the State Library. They were get­ting ready to take hun­dreds of vol­umes, which were no longer cur­rent or cor­rect to a land­fill. I remind­ed her that Mr. Dettmer lived just north in a sub­urb of Atlanta and might be inter­est­ed. She called, and he said he’d look, and after see­ing them, got a UHaul, and he took them off, to a recy­cled future. I call that a win.

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