Dennis Oppenheim

Life Support System for a Premature By-Product (from a Long Distance)


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Not on display

Dennis Oppenheim 1938–2011
2 works on paper, graphite, dry powder paint in metallic silver with bronzing liquid
Support: 971 × 2546 mm
Purchased 1982

Catalogue entry

Dennis Oppenheim born 1938

T03468 Life Support System for a Premature By-Product (from a Long Distance) 1981

Dry powdered pigment in metallic silver with bronzing liquid and pencil on two sheets of paper, overall dimensions 971 x 2546 (38 1/4 x 100 1/4)
Purchased from the artist through Lewis Johnstone Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Exh: Dennis Oppenheim ‘Vibrating Forest', Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, April-May 1982 (no cat.)
Lit: Steve Wood, ‘An Interview with Dennis Oppenheim', Arts Magazine, 55, June 1981, pp.133-7; Emily Braun, ‘Dennis Oppenheim: The Factories', Arts Magazine, vol.55, June 1981, pp.138-41

T03468 is a drawing of a monumental machine which was first exhibited at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York in 1981.

In the sixties and seventies, Oppenheim was known for his large scale land art works and works involving his own body. From having explored the physical and psychological implications of using his own body - early works involved the artist putting himself in positions of danger or under great physical stress - Oppenheim turned to more metaphorical and sculptural works in the mid seventies, while still concentrating on the relationship of the artist to the process of making art. After a series of mechanistic and theatrical installation works made in the mid seventies (for example: ‘Attempt to Raise Hell' 1974, Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris, repr. Dennis Oppenheim, exh. cat., Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam 1976 on front cover) involving a puppet, which repeatedly beats its head against a bell, Oppenheim's work became increasingly machine orientated. Since 1979 he has proposed and realized a series of large industrial looking sculptures, sometimes referred to as ‘factory sculptures'. These are presented as metaphors for the ‘mining' or ‘channeling' of creative energy and imply production, although the industrial components are sometimes frustrated or short circuited. In general, they suggest the possibility of a less literal interpretation; parallels are established between abstract ideas and the images of industrialisation:

For the artist, machines ... are poetic extensions of the mind and serve as icons of a technological, industrialized and computerized society on the one hand, and an uncharted world on the other ... the machines and the factories serve as metaphorical images of human functions such as the workings of the mind or the creative process itself (the process of the creation of art, whose significance was in the transfer of energy from the artist's mind to the work). Raw material represents ‘raw thoughts' and the machine, powered by energy ... is analogous to the body or the nervous system driven by spiritual energy. Ideas are quarried, refined, processed and transferred onto an ‘assembly line' until they reach the final stage where they materialize (Nehama Guralnik, ‘From Factories to Fireworks - Technology as a Poetic Extension of the Mind in the Work of Dennis Oppenheim' in Dennis Oppenheim, Factories, Fireworks 1979-1984, exh. cat. Tel Aviv Museum, Sept.-Nov. 1984 [p.7].)

Oppenheim's mechanized sculptures are constructed using scale line drawings. The more colourful drawings and prints giving long descriptions of the projects (see T03468 and P07939) are generally made after the sculptures.

T03468 is a drawing for a three dimensional project. The sculpture, which was constructed of aluminium with ducts, corrugated cardboard, fibreglass, glass tubes, a motorized blower, rubber pipes, steel and wood, was first installed in a one-man exhibition at the Sonnabend Gallery, New York in March 1981. It was also exhibited at the Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati in March-May 1981 and the Lowe Art Museum, Miami, in September-October (as the inscription on T03468 indicates). Details of the installations at the Sonnabend Gallery and at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati are reproduced in Arts Magazine, vol.55, June 1981, p.137. Another view of the installation at Cincinnati is reproduced in Machineworks, exh. cat., Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, March-April 1981 (p.52). This catalogue also gives the dimensions of the original installation at the Sonnabend Gallery as 12 x 50 x 75 feet. The inscription on T03468 gives slightly different dimensions for the large project (15 x 46 x 80 feet).

Interviewed in 1981, Oppenheim commented on the sculpture to which T03468 is related:

I remember talking to someone in Europe about the collision factories: I said they were like Jackson Pollock before he hit his canvas. Now they are becoming more complicated and the demands more strenuous, like ‘Life Support System for a Premature By-Product (From a Long Distance)'. In this instance there is actually a subject. There is an entity straddling this incubation chamber which draws its survival lines back into the bellows which are activated by a system of keys, these implying the extension of the lungs and mind. The whole thing is about the creation of an entity and an image. The problem of unleashing an image is a problem not only for visual artists but for anyone who thinks - for poetry - initiating a substance through language, for philosophy - structuralism, semiology, the nature of the mystery of thought. What are the real issues here? For art to direct itself to these questions is both interesting and important (Steve Wood, ‘An Interview with Dennis Oppenheim', 1981 p.137).

Oppenheim has said of the ‘factory' works in general:

It is interesting that the only person crazy enough to be doing work like this at the beginning of the eighties is the same person who was crazy enough to do more land and video pieces at the beginning of the Seventies. The evolution of this work is such that it came from a long period in which the material substance of my work, like the video projects, was etherial .. I've always been interested in the idea of energy transmission and ... doing large sculptures that are directly about energy transmission seems intrinsically logical to me. To refer to the traditional methods of art making, the product or art object, was always a direct result of a one-to-one relationship with the artist. After the various mental, emotional, forces were felt to have entered, the work was considered finished ... The machine projects are an attempt to precipitate a kinetic interface between the object and the raw art information (ibid., p.35).

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.543-5

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