Out of Sight, Out of Body: Bruce Conner’s first major show in Southeast Asia lands in Manila

The American artist’s explorations of hidden truths live on past his lifetime in this exhibition inspired by his first vision.

by Patricia Chong

A still from CROSSROADS, 1976

Before the cast-off assemblages, the avant-garde collage films, and his life-long search for hidden truths, Bruce Conner had his first out-of-body experience at the age of 11.

“I went into a state of consciousness which I couldn’t describe afterwards,” the artist would later describe. I changed. I changed physically, I changed conceptually, and it took hundreds of years. I changed and grew old, through all kinds of experiences, in worlds of totally different dimensions.”

And thus begins the story behind Bruce Conner: Out of Body, the first major exhibition of this important American artist—possibly the most important in the United States’ post-war era. Conner’s work has lived past his lifetime as collective memory and a comprehensive retrospective that toured from New York to San Francisco to Madrid over the past two years.

A still from BREAKAWAY, 1966

Curated by Artistic Director Diana Campbell Betancourt, Out of Body looks to the artist’s beginnings and first visions. It considers the strands of Eastern and Western spirituality that have stretched themselves across Conner’s vast body of work—from drawing, printing, collage, photography, film, and their fusions—in the way that it attempts to break away from the chains of physical existence and into a space of timeless consciousness.

“There were so many things that were unknown secrets, that adult society knew, that they didn’t let children know about,” said the artist.

Out of Body is presented in two parts. The exhibition opens in Bellas Artes Outpost, Makati with the artist’s 1966 masterpiece Breakaway, a 5-minute film where Toni Basil lends her dancing and vocals describing a desire to “break away from all the chains that bind” and “break away from the everyday.” The sense of capturing bodily energy is also found in the artist’s seminal photographic series, “Angel,” where the artist created haunting spiritual forms of glowing light by placing his body in various poses between photo sensitive paper and a light source. Metaphysical energy is also found in the artist’s “Inkblot” and “Mandala” series of lithographs.

Emily Feather, FROSTWORK, 2004

The Makati exhibition closes with the artist’s last film, Easter Morning (1966–2008), an exploration of rebirth and eternal life with a film reworked from an earlier 1966 8mm short entitled Easter Morning Raga, referencing one of the most ancient forms of Indian music, further connecting to the idea of reincarnation.

The exhibition continues in Bellas Artes Projects’ Bataan campus at Las Casas de Acuzar, where Conner’s iconic 36-minute film Crossroads (1976), created from archival footage of the first nuclear weapons tests conducted at Bikini Atoll in 1946, takes center stage. The film will be screened thrice weekly from 7:00 pm to 9:00pm, reminding us of the precariousness of our existence and the need to foster positive energy to bring peace for ourselves and for the environment.

Bruce Conner: Out of Body opens on February 24, 7pm at Bellas Artes Projects, Makati and on March 3, 7pm in Las Casas de Acuzar, Bagac, Bataan.