ART REVIEW | Martin Herbert’s pick of March exhibitions, Bellas Artes Projects

Bruce Conner, Bellas Artes Projects, Manila, 24 February – 24 May

Affiliated with California’s neosurrealist assemblage scene from the 1950s onwards but a mystic-minded outrider even there, Bruce Conner was determinedly elusive in life. He announced his own death twice, officially renounced art in 1999 and earlier operated under aliases including Emily Feather, BOMBHEAD and the Dennis Hopper One Man Show. Conner was also, as his recent resurrection within the artworld reflects, something of a visionary.

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Bruce Conner, painter, sculptor, provocateur – he garnered thousands of votes for city-wide office in San Francisco after making lengthy speeches that consisted entirely of dessert names – has made around two dozen short films since 1958. Most combine stock footage (such as educational films warning against the dangers of tooth decay, Bible story recreations, animated Ford Motor Company adverts, home movies of water-skiing mishaps) with soundtracks that either provide emotional counterpoint (see A Movie [1958], Conner’s first and most famous short) or reinforce the assembled films’ visual rhythms (see Take the 5:10 to Dreamland…[1977] and Valse Triste [1978] and, for me his best work, Breakaway).

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FILM COMMENT | ONCE UPON AMERICA: The multi-faceted career of artist Bruce Conner has a brand-new object.

A Bruce Conner film might be constructed from a dozen or a hundred instances—shards, jolts, figments—of déjà vu. Though it may employ fewer: Marilyn Times Five (68-73), where an iconic handful of b&w nudie tableaus are gracefully looped back on themselves as though refracted through a peep-booth's two-way mirror (just a recumbent Monroe lookalike, a bottle of Coke, and thou). These images, scavenged from home movies, newsreels, stag films, Defense Department footage, educational shorts, and TV commercials, are summoned forth from our collective consciousness, and beckon us down that irrationalist primrose pathos into their subterranean lairs. If the specter of the Sixties continues to haunt the imagination, as an unraveled utopia of ruined shrines, forsaken promises, and impossible desires, then Bruce Conner is the era's truest documentarian, as well as its shadow DJ.

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