Altered States: Bruce Conner’s Border Crossings / A lecture by Johanna Gosse

Altered States: Bruce Conner’s Border Crossings
A lecture by Johanna Gosse

Altered States: Bruce Conner’s Border Crossings
A lecture by Johanna Gosse

Free admission

October 13, 2022, 7pm
172 Classon Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11205

Join us on Thursday, October 13, 7pm at e-flux Screening Room for Altered States: Bruce Conner’s Border Crossings, a lecture by Johanna Gosse, with a screening of Conner’s LOOKING FOR MUSHROOMS (1959-1967, 3 minutes).

This talk focuses on Bruce Conner’s LOOKING FOR MUSHROOMS (1959-1967), an exemplary instance of experimental film’s engagement with the psychedelic counterculture. Inspired by Conner’s experience living in Mexico City in the early 1960s and his avid experimentation with psychedelics, particularly hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms, the film features ethnographic views of rural village life, cameos from LSD guru Timothy Leary, and multiple allusions, literal and symbolic, to an atomic mushroom cloud, all set to a lively rock soundtrack by the Beatles.

While nuclear paranoia is the central theme of many of Conner’s found footage films, such as A MOVIE (1958), COSMIC RAY (1961), and CROSSROADS (1976), it is also a subtext of LOOKING FOR MUSHROOMS, which uses dazzling psychedelic visual effects to convey the ominous threat of the bomb. In fact, Conner’s year in Mexico was suffused with existential anxiety over the looming nuclear threat: though he initially fled south to escape the bomb, his subsequent return to the U.S. a year later coincided with the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This curiously timed homecoming, which was synched to an exceptionally tense moment of Cold War political theater, throws into relief the personal and political aspirations behind the mushroom hunts captured in Conner’s film.

This talk will trace how the twin motifs of border crossing and atomic anxiety surface in LOOKING FOR MUSHROOMS, and in turn, how Conner’s film illuminates the complex cultural politics of race and nation within the 1960s counterculture. The discussion will focus on how the film’s psychedelia is shaped by a colonialist logic of “expansion” and (self-) discovery, in which primitivist projections of Indigeneity play a constitutive role.

Preceded by a in-person-only screening of the film, this talk emerges from a new open-access article published in the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies.

Johanna Gosse’s lecture continues Film Beyond Film: Art and The Moving Image, a series of monthly lectures at e-flux Screening Room by researchers whose work has formed the discourse at the intersection of modern/contemporary art and cinema, and that focus on the histories of artists’ films, situating them within broader aesthetic, political, and economic contexts.

The lecture will be held in person, as well as livestreamed on this same page, with chat enabled for Q&A.

–Two flights of stairs lead up to the building’s front entrance at 172 Classon Avenue.       
–For elevator access, please RSVP to The building has a freight elevator which leads into the e-flux office space. Entrance to the elevator is nearest to 180 Classon Ave (a garage door). We have a ramp for the steps within the space.      
–e-flux has an ADA-compliant bathroom. There are no steps between the event space and this bathroom.

​​For more information, contact

Experimental Film, Nuclear War, Drugs & Psychedelia

Johanna Gosse is a historian of modern and contemporary art specializing in experimental film and media. She is currently Assistant Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Idaho, and the Executive Editor of Media-N: Journal of the New Media Caucus. Gosse is co-editor of Nervous Systems: Art, Systems, and Politics since the 1960s (Duke University Press, 2022), and her article on Bruce Conner’s LOOKING FOR MUSHROOMS appears in the summer 2022 open-access issue of the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies.

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