Pardon the absence: busy month, and it's our Town Fayre Week here.
Among those who like books, it's generally sacrilege to cut them up or write on them. It certainly made me wince when I first read of an arts-and-crafts trend in altering books - see Transforming books into objets d'art and Books rebound - but the latter article makes the fair point that many books are trashed by libraries and publishers anyway.
There are even more honourable exceptions. A thread at the Giornale Nuovo weblog just reminded me of Tom Phillips' remarkable work, A Humument. For this work, which is continually under revision with successive editions, Phillips took William Hurrell Mallock's little known 1892 novel, A Human Document (itself already considerably experimental for its period) and creatively overpainted it, leaving fragments of words and phrases that form a surreal new text.
The protagonist's surname, for instance, is Toge (obtained when the words "altogether" and "together" appear) and the introductory first page is reduced to "The following sing I a book. / a book of art / of mind and art / that which he hid / reveal I". The official site, www.humument.com contains an introduction, gallery and a number of essays on the project and the original novel. Tom Phillips' website carries a full sets of scans of the first edition in 1970.
I also encountered at Giornale Nuovo the work of an artist I didn't know about: Brian Dettmer. Like Phillips, Dettmer reworks books, but in three dimensions. Using surgical instriuments, he cuts down through the layers to create intricate carvings revealing words and images at different depths (it recalls the common anecdote about Michelangelo; that he viewed his sculptures as hidden inside the stone, waiting to be cut out). More examples here and here. - Ray