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 They were getting ready to take hundreds of volumes, which were no longer current or correct to a landfill.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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