Bruce Conner (1933 – 2008) was an artist specialised in assemblage, collage, film, photography and painting whose most renowned work (although one of the first) was A MOVIE (1958).
His early series of experiments with found objects (women’s stockings, clothes, jewerly, mechanical objects, often combined with painted backgrounds) echoing the Surrealism tradition and aiming to provide a commentary on consumer culture and the impact of society on the individual, gave him prominence within the international assemblage movement.
His first 1958 editing effort, A MOVIE (all Conner’s movies were explicitly titled in all capital letters), is an assemblage of found footage from wartime newsreels, documentaries, soft-core pornography etc. depicting quickly moving animals, people and crashing objects (planes, cars, boats…). The different narratives converge in a single movie in order to evoke emotions and make thematic points, while the word “movie” keeps appearing on the screen and a recording of Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome plays on the background.
After A MOVIE, Conner contributed to successful multimedia exhibitions of sculptures, paintings and collages and made nearly two dozen experimental assembled-shots movies. Among these, “REPORT” (1967), a repetitive found footages of Kennedy’s assassination (a topos in Conner’s production), coupled with radio broadcast commentary and a closeup of the button “SELL”, had a major impact. With Report, Conner aimed to level a profound critique on the commercialization of the president’s death and on the media’s mythic construction of JFK and Jackie.
“CROSSROADS“, (1976) another central chapter in the artist’s career, is a slow-motion 36 minutes long replay of the underwater nuclear test (codename: Operation Crossroads), at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. The musical score was by Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley.
Watch the video here.
Because of Conner’s use of pop and avant-garde musical soundtracks (by Ray Charles, Devo, the Beatles, Terry Riley, Patrick Gleason, Brian Eno and David Byrne…), he was considered a precursor of the music video genre.
Both for the video of Devo’s MONGOLOID (1977-78) and Brian Eno & David Byrne’s MEA CULPA (1981), Conner employed found educational footage. In particular, for the Devo’s song, the footage was edited together with b-movies, newsreel, television advertisements and science fiction film clips to accompany the story of a young man’s useful integration in the society despite his basic mental deficit.
Watch the original video here. Here follows a Moca TV documentary excerpt about Casale and Conner meeting and discussing about their common Dadaist and Constructivist aesthetics common ground.
For MEA CULPA (1981), found footage clips from educational movies are slowly transformed in abstract constructions of dots, cubes, light fields in order to visually and rhytmically accompany the musical track out of David Byrne and Brian Eno’s sampling album “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts“. As asserted in Moca Tv’s commentary, “in their purity of form, and in Conner’s contentedness to let the objects be, the film recalls the rhythmic compositions of Hans Richter from a generation earlier“.
Following are the original video, a short Moca Tv documentary on the Conner and Devo collaboration and a selection of video stills.
Further reading and other resources on Bruce Conner:
Michelle Silva’s videos on Vimeo (“CROSSROADS” and “KRON 4 | Bruce Conner and Dennis Hopper, Gallery Paule Anglim, 1995”)
Subversive cinema: Devo’s Mongoloid (a film by Bruce Conner) by klax, an article on Kwur.com
Exploring Early Video: Bruce Conner on Devo’s Video for “Mongoloid”, an article on Rockerzine.com
An article on Conner’s CROSSROADS on Vogue
Japanuary shorts (an impressive list of shorts experimental movies including Conner’s MEA CULPA) on Deeperintomovies.net
A Movie as prototype database narrative. Article + video on Criticalcommons.org
ON BRUCE CONNER (may he rest in peace) AND ASSORTED KANSAN COHORTS. A Memorial and Memory Lane Meditation by Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, 2008
The 21st Century BC, an article by Steven Fama
Bruce Conner’s drawings and photo collection at the Gallery Paule Anglim
Bruce Conner artworks collection at the SFMoma