Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Artist of the Week

Brian Dettmer

One of the primary goals of this website is to bring together the various arts, literature, art, and music, into one central location in hopes of shining a light on the under appreciated, paying homage to the greats of the past, and hopefully touching of everything in between. I hope the site can be a meeting place, where an artists can discover their new favorite writer, or a writer find inspiration in a new painting or song. Sharing your creative output is such an intimate experience, and hopefully this site serves in some way to make that experience more pleasing.

One artist who is literally combining all three genres of art in his work is, Chicago native and Atlanta resident, Brian Dettmer. Brian utilizes existing books, cassette tapes, and video tapes to create completely new works of art. When dealing with books, Brian cuts into the pages revealing fragmented images and words, and in turn restores value to books that had otherwise been tossed away and forgotten. Forgotten much like the cassette tape that for Brian now become a build blocks to creating a skull. He melts and shapes these tapes into the desired and therefore finding use for these relics.

Recently, Brian was kind enough to answer a few of our question on his process and his work in general.

Orange Alert (OA): I imagine your current work is a result of many different phases and experiments, but when and why did you first start working with books?
Brian Dettmer (BD): When I was in College I was working with language systems and codes, mainly through large paintings that would appear abstract but contain coded messages. After college I began building textured paintings with newspapers and then eventually book pages. I liked the idea that a painting could actually contain information that had been reduced to more universal experiences of field and texture. As I began to use books, I would rip pages out, feeling somewhat guilty when I would have the discarded crust of a book spine left over. I began to look at the book itself as a material to investigate and would seal them up and carve holes and shapes into them. One day I can across a landscape and decided to carve around it, then a figure emerged below and I kept going, kept excavating.

OA: Is the content of the book pertinent to overall meaning of the piece?
BD: Yes, of course the book already contains meaning in its content which shifts when exposed in small components or new relationships. I always think of the books content and how it relates to my process. For example, when I work with an anatomy book, I think of the book as a body and of my process as a dissection; when I work with a science or anthropology book, I think about excavation: if its a history book I think about memory and the way history is told and the way it can be redefined.

OA: Is there meaning in the words that you leave visible?
BD: Yes. I'm specifically interested in the ways language can take on multiple or new meanings when it is divided, isolated or taken out of it's given field. Medical and mechanical language is very flexible and can be easily shifted to new territory.

OA: What types of books do you typically look for?
BD: Almost always non-fiction. I like a certain aged patina and of course the feeling of the book's size, weight, even paper quality all figure in to my interest (or disinterest).

OA: I've read that your process is meditative and filled with discovery. Do you have an image in your mind before you begin the process?
BD: No. I seal the book ahead of time and carve into the top so I have no control over what becomes exposed and usable. I could have an overall image of a books feeling but I have no idea what images, forms or words will emerge when I begin.

OA: How do you know when a piece is completed?
BD: This is sort of hard to explain. I want the work I do to push the book far enough to become something new. I want to expose, re contextualize and amplify the power of the original without canceling it out. At the same time, I feel a certain obligation to release as much power or energy from the material as possible to justify cutting up a book.

OA: The degree of detail in your work is astounding. How long does it typically take you to complete a new piece?
BD: Days, sometimes weeks. It all depends. I spend 10 hours a day, 5 days a week in my studio.

OA: Are the pieces treated with anything to preserve them?
BD: Yes, a clear coat.

OA: The skulls made out of cassette tapes are ingenious. Do you use a mold to create those?
BD: No, I don't use a mold. I always have some type of model to work from that I use as a reference but I am pretty much welding and sculpting with my hands and pliers from the model in front of me.

OA: What's next for Brian Dettmer?
BD: After this I'm going to cook some dinner. Oh, are you asking about art? Hmmm, you'll just have to see.

Bonus Questions:
OA: Coffee? If yes what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?
BD: I love coffee, and I'm addicted to caffeine. I don't want to advertise for any one brand but my favorite way to prepare it is w/ a French press. I don't really hang out at Cafes.

OA: Do you every listen to music while creating? If so, what types of music do you prefer while creating and in general?
BD: Yes, I listen to a lot of music and also NPR, various podcasts and books on tape while I work. I rarely listen to music w/ lyrics while I'm working. Its almost always instrumental post rock or electronica (if you have to label it). Namedropping favorites: Godspeed You Black Emperor, Mogwai, Four Tet, Tetsu Inoue, Nobody, On!Air!Library! I love music. I could go on forever.

For more of Brian's recent work check out the following galleries: KTF Gallery, Toomey Tourell's, and Haydee Rovirosa Gallery.


Anonymous said...

Greetings from Tract Magazine,

We are fascinated by the work of Brian Dettmer.

Tract Magazine is a new publication put out by the University of North Carolina. As an idea, Tract sprung from shared frustration with the inability to reconcile two independent intellectual interests--an almost formulaic opposition between natural science and the arts. The magazine was launched with the goal of making both disciplines more accessible to their would-be detractors.

We were hoping you might be able to put us in touch with Mr. Dettmer, and would be very interested in featuring him in our upcoming issue (early 2009).

Looking forward to your response,

Zena Cardman
editor, Tract Magazine

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