Reading with a knife, or the book art of subtraction
The altered books of Brian Dettmer and Doug Beube
in Mixed messages
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Brian Dettmer and Doug Beube are sculptors, creating artwork out of old books. This essay focuses on a form of altered books called "subtraction", where the artists only remove from the pre-existing form of the book, carving into old encyclopaedias, dictionaries and other disused books to reveal hidden potential. Their work is part of a collaborative process with the form and purpose of the original book by removing its elements, raising questions concerning how different mediums elicit different sensory experiences. Dettmer and Beube perform what W.J.T. Mitchell calls in What Do Pictures Want? (2005), ‘critical idolatry’ that enacts a ‘creative destruction’ while producing a ‘double consciousness’, such that we, in contemporary Western culture, impart a dual nature upon images by regarding them as living objects yet in conjunction with the logical sensibilities that simultaneously reveal otherwise. We necessarily imbue both the book and its content with power, while also acknowledging them as utterly powerless human constructions, Masuga argues. With the production of the bookwork, that relationship is made more complex. Examining the construction of these bookworks, this essay considers their significance in the digital age, expanding on Mitchell’s concept to argue for an effect that Masuga calls ‘double consciousness squared’.

Mixed messages

American correspondences in visual and verbal practices


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