Dennis Oppenheim: Form-Energy-Subject

Screening and Conversation

Wednesday 22 May, 2013
6:30pm, $7

Electronic Arts Intermix
535 West 22 Street, Floor 5

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“Take the phenomenon of grabbing: instead of grabbing clay, you grab your stomach. For the first time, instead of imposing form manually, you are feeling what it is like to be made. You might have felt your hands picking up a piece of wood and staking it, but you have never felt what the wood felt.” 

- Dennis Oppenheim, Studio International (November, 1971)

EAI is proud to present a screening and discussion on the films and videos of Dennis Oppenheim, focusing on the Aspen Projects, produced between 1970 and 1974. These rarely seen works mark the evolution of Oppenheim’s practice from public earthworks in the late 1960s to more intimate material investigations of his own body. In the early 1970s, Oppenheim was in the vanguard of artists using film and video as a means to examine themes relating to Body Art, Conceptual Art, and performance. In his works from this time, Oppenheim used his own body as a site to challenge the self: he explored the boundaries of personal risk, transformation, and communication through ritualistic performance actions and interactions. 

The short pieces from Aspen Projects record performative actions that evolve as exchanges or interactions between Oppenheim's body and natural and man-made elements—leaves, wood, hair, compressed air, glass. In some pieces, these gestures involve a kind of self-negation; others work in reverse, as Oppenheim leaves imprints or traces of himself. As his actions unfold, the distinction between his living body and the inanimate and non-living materials he uses are leveled, erasing the differences and categories that stand between his face or fingernail and a fern or piece of wood. Continuing this line of inquiry, in the equally mesmerizing and disquieting work Disappear, Oppenheim attempts to will his hand to dematerialize. Intoning a hypnotic and mantra-like wish for disappearance and dissolution, he moves his hand faster than the camera’s mechanism can process images, turning it into an indeterminate blur. In 2 Stage Transfer Drawing (Returning to a Past State) and 2 Stage Transfer Drawing (Advancing to a Future State), both from 1971, Oppenheim investigates transference and communication through the body. Collaborating with his son Erik, in the Transfer Drawing pieces Oppenheim makes a drawing on his son's back; his son tries to copy this drawing through tactile sensation onto the wall. They then reverse roles. Writes Oppenheim, "I am drawing through him."

Curator Jenny Jaskey will introduce the screening, focusing on the artist’s concern with the interpenetration of human and non-human life, and the collapse of assumed hierarchies between subjects and objects in his work. Oppenheim once likened his performances during this period to “plugging into the solar system, communicating with an element,” and his immersive investigations presciently anticipate contemporary questions around ecology, matter and human agency. 

To discuss these concerns and the relevance of Oppenheim’s work for a current generation of artists, Jaskey will be joined by artists A.K. BurnsAjay Kurian andYve Laris-Cohen for an informal discussion in the second half of the evening. Burns’ practice explores the intersection of desire, power and language, taking the form of sculpture, video, collage or social actions. In recent works, Burns has focused on object tactility and the cultural implication of fetish. Cohen's performances layer bodies and objects, using strategies of repetition and endurance to map genealogies of material exchange. In his art, Kurian pursues new material languages and strategies that disregard divisions between nature, culture and human beings, creating conditions for exploring non-human agency within art.

Special thanks to Amy Oppenheim and the Oppenheim Studio for their assistance in organizing this program.

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