The Making of Dennis Oppenheim's 'Thought Collision Factories' 1979–1985

Luigi Kurmann
Dennis Oppenheim talks series
15th January 2014
Henry Moore Institute seminar Room, 6pm

Installation view of Gallery 1, showing detail from:

Dennis Oppenheim
'Launching Sculpture #3. An Armature for Projection. (From The Fireworks Series)'
Scale model for outdoor work
Aluminium, steel, iron, wood, Pyrex, fireworks, electric motors

Courtesy City of Geneva, Contemporary Art Fund (FMAC)
Photo: David Cotton

Between 1979 and 1985 Luigi Kurmann worked for Dennis Oppenheim as technical advisor, fabricating all indoor installations and outdoor pieces in Europe. These included 'Station for Detaining and Binding Radio-active Horses' (1980-82), the first Thought Collision Factory built outdoors in Europe, or, 'Second Sight for a Staircase' (1980-81), the piece that incorporated fireworks for the first time. Kurmann also realized the permanent outdoor piece 'Formula Compound: A Combustion Chamber: An Exorcism' (1982), in Santomato di Pistoia, and the large scale model 'Launching Structure #3. An Armature for Projection' (1982) for an outdoor sculpture in Geneva, which is included in the current exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.

Luigi Kurmann will give an insight into his work with Dennis Oppenheim and show how the process of developing these pieces from scratch and their production on site took place. He will talk about the influence technical realities had on Oppenheim's ideas and how the open production process influenced the final outlook of the pieces.

In Europe none of the firework series pieces was really set to action. In an exhibition it was simply not allowed and in Santomato the work sits in a protected natural resource area. However, Dennis Oppenheim was much more interested in the imaginative potential of his sculptures. The work for Pistoia 'Formula Compound: A Combustion Chamber: An Exorcism' was conceived by Oppenheim as art producing machine. The activated sculpture would have produced stains and markings on copper plates, which then could have served as printing plates for etchings. Thus, the aesthetics of these machine-produced artworks would have been out of the control of the artist. Besides visualising the production of ideas or machines producing thought, it seems to be this idea of lost control, which Oppenheim wanted to investigate with his new concept of sculpture as agent.

Luigi Kurmann, born in 1951 near Lucerne in Switzerland, is a curator, art advisor and art project manager, living in Berlin and Zurich. Since 2010 he is also partner and artistic director of Bernhard Knaus Fine Art in Frankfurt.

An audio recording of this event is available in the Henry Moore Institute Research Library.

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