Without seeing a video, it is difficult to imagine how Brian Dettmer creates his sculptures. His medium is vintage nonfiction — hardbound dictionaries, encyclopedias, medical journals, atlases, and engineering texts that have, for the most part, become outdated and outmoded media. Using a delicate system of ropes and clamps, Dettmer arranges these books into a desirable configuration, and seals the pages shut. Then he begins to excavate one page at a time, preserving a word here or an image there. Dettmer’s pieces are not planned before he cuts into a book — a process he likens to reading — but the revelation never fails to astound: a crevasse flooded with mythology, an Escher-like tableau of algorithms, a memory-box overflowing with bathing beauties and cloud formations. Dettmer’s reverence for each tome is palpable; his love of books seems to propel production in an age when the written word is fast vanishing from our physical world. His latest show, “Textonomy,” features large-scale works using complete sets of encyclopedias. If you want to explore the crannies, arrive early. Dettmer’s exhibit is part of 49 Geary, a multi-gallery favorite destination for First Thursday, which is tonight.
Thu., Feb. 2, 5:30 p.m., 2012