Oppenheim’s art spans across a broad array of media such as drawing, photography and land art. He is most known for his bold, confident signature sculptures, which are celebrated at the Thought Collision Factories exhibition of his work currently on display at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.
Entering into the exhibition Oppenheim’s work instantly and simultaneously makes you feel you have been transported into the inner workings of an aggressive machine and through the delicate memories of a traveller. The exhibition focuses on his more industrial and explosive sculptures often with mechanical elements, fireworks and flares. Dennis Oppenheim‘s Launching Structure #3. An Armature for Projection (1982) is the centre piece of the first room and feels like a weapon, architectural study model and decomposing industrial device all at once. Oppenheim describes the mechanical nature of the machine as a ‘metaphor for thinking’. It’s presence is so dominant that it leaves the audience with a sense of unease; inviting you to look closer, whilst toying with your instinctive urge to keep a safe distance from the work’s hard body and explosive properties. The complex structure incorporates carefully placed objects with ignitive properties such as lighters and fireworks, giving the sensation that the whole art piece feels poised to explode, evoking a powerful sense of suspense.
To compliment the exhibition, part of his series of firework signs will be set off, each one burning text into the sky creating a temporary sculpture and generating the full sensory experience that is often characteristic of his work. Explosives engage our senses fully before, after and during their reactive states, giving an experience of sight sound, smell, sight and even touch as heat pours off them. Although, often spoken of as a sculptor, strong elements of performance, photography and film dominate his work. Oppenheim’s film Echo, also being screened in the gallery, is a brilliant example of his versatility as an artist and the breadth of tools employed to create work in his practice. This audio and visual piece presents the violence of a large scale open palm crashing against a flat neutral surface, and despite being a departure from the body of work on display it sits perfectly with the sculptures in the exhibition, exploring the place of film in sculptural practice. The film, like all his work on display, uses scale as an essential element; rooted in the language and tools of sculpture, whilst also providing a base platform to expand his ideas.
Throughout his career Dennis Oppenheim worked hard to explore and extend the definition of sculpture, and was appreciated for Lifetime Achievement at the Vancouver Sculpture Biennale. In Thought Collision Factories photography and mapping is used as both a medium for documentation and as an extension of sculpture. In works such as Whirlwind -Eye of the Storm (1973) Oppenheim empties whirls of smokes into the sky, documenting the event through photography which become works of art in themselves, creating a tangible recorded memory of the sculptural performance. By utilising a spectrum of creative tools his sculptural body of work in the show become an installation experience. Simultaneously alive and explosive, robotic and dead; his work transforms the gallery into a narrative journey of science-fiction, guiding us through the shifting yet inactive and contradictory nature of memories. A celebration of harmonious contrast.