Collaged, Reclaimed, Altered, Eroded, Revised, Invigorated

Via Giornale Nuovo, I just discovered the work of Brian Dettmer, an Atlanta-based artist. Dettmer specializes in the transformation of old objects, many of them books (dictionaries, medical and scientific texts, histories), which he meticulously digs into and carves up. In some of his most recent work, he has even cored the books to create an extraordinary effect -- they look to me like blocks of wood in which worlds of words and little pictures have ripened, entangled, and exploded.

Dettmer doesn't just create new worlds with old books; he also transforms other objects -- for instance, building a lovely rosebush from old videocassettes, or creating what looks like a rotted animal carcass from cassette tapes. In 2003, he moved from manipulating objects to manipulating sound, sculpting "ReAddress" from George W. Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address: "A few minute minutes of recorded sound became hundreds of separate audio files that become recontextualized when played randomly through a computer media player. New word streams, phrases, and meanings emerge as the language continuously re-structures in real time."

Dettmer's creations remind me of a couple of other things -- first, Thomas Allen's photographs of pulp paperbacks carved so that their covers gain new dimensions. (I'd love to see the two artists collaborate.)

I was also reminded of Kenneth Goldsmith's ideas of conceptual poetics or uncreative writing, because much of what Goldsmith seems to advocate creates a kind of object from texts and textual processes, an object that includes the text but doesn't require reading so much as it requires noticing and perceiving, which makes such work less like writing than like sculture or construction.

In any case, I love this sort of art, the reconception and recontextualization of objects. Collage and reclamation; alteration and erosion; invigoration by revision.

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