“Bruce Conner’s Atomic Sublime Cinema”
San Francisco-based artist Bruce Conner made his first experimental film, A MOVIE, in 1958, at the height of national anxiety about the atomic threat. Over the following decades, his films continued to address the cultural and political fallout of the Cold War. This talk examines Conner’s filmic output over two and a half decades, from his pioneering works of “found footage” montage, to his participation in psychedelic expanded cinema performance, to his more intimate portraits of female friends and later interest in music video. It argues that these works are expressions of the “atomic sublime,” an aesthetic that captures the paradoxical experience of “terrible beauty” that is generated by witnessing an atomic explosion. By attending closely to the historical and cultural context of Conner’s apocalyptic cinema, this talk proposes a reconsideration of postwar American art’s engagement with the aesthetics of “the sublime.”
Johanna Gosse is an art historian specializing in the postwar American avant-garde, with an emphasis on experimental film and media practices. She earned her PhD in the History of Art from Bryn Mawr College in 2014 with a dissertation on the experimental films of San Francisco-based artist Bruce Conner. Her writing has appeared in journals such as Camera Obscura, MIRAJ: Moving Image Review & Art Journal, Radical History Review, The Journal of Black Mountain College Studies, various exhibition catalogues, and Abstract Video: The Moving Image in Contemporary Art, an edited collection forthcoming from the University of California Press in 2015. You can read more about past work and current projects at: www.johannagosse.com.