John Bock

Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn, Germany

mabra_131002_kah_51_1234.jpg

John Bock, 'Der Pappenheimer', 2013, Installation view, Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn. Courtesy: Anton Kern, New York; Sprüth Magers, Berlin; Giò Marconi, Mailand; Sadie Coles HQ, London and Regen Projects, Los Angeles. Photo: Kunst-  und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik

John Bock, 'Der Pappenheimer', 2013, Installation view, Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn. Courtesy: Anton Kern, New York; Sprüth Magers, Berlin; Giò Marconi, Mailand; Sadie Coles HQ, London and Regen Projects, Los Angeles. Photo: Kunst-  und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik

This past summer, in an exhibition entitled ‘Der Pappenheimer’ at Kunstverein Hamburg, John Bock presented his work in an uncharacteristically ascetic way. Visitors entered an empty labyrinth of narrow white passages, with just a few of Bock’s signature absurd objects standing in the corners. For his retrospective at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, on the other hand, he has returned to the lavish abundance and chaotic diversity for which his performances, lectures, films, collages and large-scale sculptural installations have been known since the late 1990s. As part of ‘Im Modder der Summenmutation’, the artist reprised some of his past lectures, but the main focus was the numerous films that are often integrated into his shows. Nine of these films were screened in individual booths, including Inside Beyond (2007), Fixkosten (Fixed Costs, 2012) and Unter der Kinnlade (Under the Jaw, 2011). The latter is typical: a 19-minute piece set in a cross between a discotheque, a laboratory and an operating theatre. Here, the slightly deranged Professor Bock uses futuristic equipment to tackle the object of his desire, a patient by the name of Hinkebein. Repeating the words ‘a bloody business’, Bock saws through Hinkebein’s ‘phantom body’ and removes various organs, inspecting them with relish. The artist gives free reign to his love of the polymorphously perverse, presenting it in a light that is both garish and nonsensical. In the exhibition, alline screening booths were painted pale green, their geometric forms recalling stalls used to keep livestock. This is an allusion to Bock’s childhood: before studying business administration and later art, he grew up on a farm in northern Germany.

The second, larger part of the exhibition comprised an area for filming that includes various sets, a wardrobe and props. The sets have names like Sockenkuppel (Sock Dome), Stube (The Parlour) and Fellini-Raum (Fellini Room, all 2013). Rather than being static, they changed over the course of the exhibition, as Bock used the sets to shoot films during the early weeks of the show. This also explains the presence of film cameras and lighting equipment throughout the space. The contents here display all of the familiar traits of Bock’s work: a blood-smeared, deformed human body made of fabric, reminiscent of both Paul McCarthy’s work and Ghost Train aesthetics; pale sausages scattered about; abstract aluminium foil forms, distantly recalling Thomas Hirschhorn’s installations. Certain scenarios echo early videos by The Cure (whose singer Robert Smith happens to slightly resemble the artist), with expressively narrowed perspectives, psychedelic palettes and aggressively handled bodies. Among this characteristic confusion, there were frequent references to farming, including a machine for turning hay and fully functioning milking parlours, as well as wall paintings with rural-futuristic motifs, reinforcing the autobiographical reference. Finally, the films shot here quoted various cinematic and television genres, such as crime thrillers and horror films, whose logic Bock pushes to absurd extents. Over the duration of the show, these films also became part of ‘Im Modder der Summenmutation’.

The problem of this overflowing exhibition became clear when compared with Bock’s early performances in the mid-90s at the now closed Klosterfelde Galerie. At that time, in an exhibition space of just 20 square metres in Berlin’s as-yet-ungentrified Mitte district, Bock’s performances were still surprising and disturbing. His then novel combination of Beuysian lectures, Dadaistic nonsense and perverse mind games opened up innovative options for performance art. But today, his almost unchanged vocabulary – now transferred into the visual language of film – no longer has the same effect. There are no surprises; risks are no longer taken, time-tested formulas, such as delighting in the grotesque, are merely reeled off. With undeniable intelligence and skill, Bock runs through his programme. But his once-bizarre aesthetic has aged, relying all too routinely on its stock vocabulary. As a result, the artist has become entangled in his own oeuvre to increasingly repetitive and unproductive effect. It is also doubtful whether artistic strategies of quoting and mocking the media of art, transforming the presentation space into a production space, or re-enacting one’s own previous body of work – all strategies with by now long-established histories – are still capable of achieving anything other than compliantly fulfilling the agreed art-world standards of contemporary aesthetics.

Issue 160

First published in Issue 160

Jan - Feb 2014

Most Read

A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander
While we might not see open censorship be prepared for the vilification of provocative aesthetics
From credit scores to algorithmic policing, Jackie Wang’s Carceral Capitalism reveals technocracy as not merely...
Robin Campillo’s portrait of ACT UP Paris puts militancy before mourning
In other news: open letter demands reinstatement of documenta’s Annette Kulenkampff; ‘Russian Modernism’ show at Ghent...
Monochrome painting at the National Gallery, London
Highlights from the 2018 edition of Condo London, a collaborative exhibition by 46 galleries across 17 citywide...
Why the 40-year-old Mute record label remains an enigma
Kirsty Bell, Ahmet Öğüt, Ming Wong and Slavs and Tatars share their highlights of the coming year’s shows: can we break...
The New York museum’s introduction of an admission charge shows us the problem with donor dependence and a hands-off...
Remembering the visionary ceramic artist whose aesthetic was that of a painter: ‘Everything she touched was edged with...
Four UK-based museum directors and curators, and a Turner Prize-winning artist, select the shows they are looking...
The best films, books and shows focusing on representations of gay life in 2017
In other news: the inaugural Lahore Biennial will go ahead and the controversially cancelled Max Stern exhibition is...
A year of protest and performance in Los Angeles
Melissa Gronlund on the best of a bad year: from activists in Jakarta, images of Mecca and labour negotiations in the...
In a year marked by natural disasters, some of the best exhibitions in Latin America were attempts to make sense of the...
From Anthropocenic doom in Cecilia Alemani’s Italian Pavilion in Venice to Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting...
Contributing editor Max Andrews looks back on 2017, from turbulence in the Catalan capital to Pierre Huyghe’s...
When musical signifiers for sex so often become sonic pornography, LCMF 2017 showed alternative ways of marrying sound...
Our culture is terrified of sexually-awakened girls – controlling the way we look at Thérèse Dreaming would erase...
Where the fight against reactionary conservative activism in Brazil stands ahead of the 2018 presidential elections
In further news: documenta artists protest ‘profit-above-everything’ motive; Monir Museum opens in Tehran; Beijing...
From debates around colonial histories to resonant conversations around precariousness, a year of questioning long-held...
In further news: Abu Dhabi authorities now say they acquired USD$450 million Leonardo; removal of artworks in Catalonia...
A year marked by new visualizations, both controversial and celebrated, of the black body

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018