08 April 2016

On the lyrical suicide and madness in the work of artist John Bock.

By Anna-Lena Werner

“I am standing. Standing at the place. Airport. The train I am sitting in picks up speed. The plane to my destination accelerates,” so read the first sentences of John Bock’s text piece, which is part of the catalog for the ME exhibition. His words are less a poetry slam and more of a poetry splatter, and they speak lyrically of a disquieting moment of introspection. Sitting quietly in the train, in a plane and waiting to check-in, the narrator strings together his perception of things. He interweaves the moments with one another, creates narrative tension, while speed and strange people rush past him. The undefined self-existence falters in the massive throng of moving bodies.

John Bock, Verlot­ter­tes Requiem, 2016, photo: Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Norbert Miguletz, 2016

He remains frozen. In front of him lies his food removed from its wrapping paper: “The sandwich trembles in the plane and train.” Something about this story is dreadful, but this something is invisible. He writes, “The suspicious thing cannot be seen. Nothing stirs in the plane. Nothing moves in the train.” Then suddenly with a smooth cut of the razor to his carotid artery the narrator breaks out of his rigidity: “Blood gushes onto the compartment floor accompanied by gurgling sounds.” He turns away and moves away from his dead, other self. “The folded self-existence-quasi-me,” he narrates, and mirroring his sandwich, “folds itself open out of the room.” 

Empty logic 

If you wished to sum up John Bock’s work “The mirrored fusion of the same and the identical in one person, resulting in a bloody act” you could say it is about a partial suicide of one’s own consciousness, a gutting of the weaker I, a new start. It is about being present and simultaneously absent. But the interpretation can never be precise as the works by the Berlin-based artist are not necessarily intended to be fully understood.

John Bock, Verlot­ter­tes Requiem, 2016, photo: Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Norbert Miguletz, 2016

Nor is that necessary: Although his drawings, installations, videos and performances all revolve around murder and slaughter, madness and the absurd search for a deeper sense to things, Bock’s extreme imagery often only conveys a sense of absolute emptiness in a self-fabricated cosmos of madness. They are splatter templates, which perhaps comparable to the movies by Quentin Tarantino depict a deep melancholy coupled with madness. The fact that his art is basically a mixture of the essential with the banal forces you to review your own understanding of ethics. 

Root of eggshell 

Until 1997 Bock studied art in Hamburg. And already toured Germany back then with his Lecture Performances. The words that come gushing out of him have their own logic though it is not always easy for others to follow. Today, his texts and titles still contain fragments of the mathematics jargon Bock acquired during his six semesters of economics at the university.

John Bock, ApproximationRezipientenbedürfniscomaUrUltraUseMaterialMiniMaxi, Biennale, Venice, 1999, image via johnbock.de

But his works have little to do with mathematics and more with pure chaos: For example, his lecture “Abay hoch Bock hoch zwei ist gleich Wurzel aus Eierschale tangiert Kaugummikurve”, which he performed 2015 with musician Aydo Abay in Kölnischer Kunstverein, a dystopian rock concert in which John Bock complements the band with sounds from egg slicers and whisks, text fragments and suicidal cling-film bondage presentations.

Relics of a performance

Bock transforms the remains of the evening into the work “Verlottertes Requiem”, which is shown in the ME exhibition in Frankfurt’s SCHIRN gallery. It comprises props, monitor recordings and costumes, and as so often happens the artist has frozen the components of his performances into an installation.

Surrounded by his gruesome installations, which once served as scenery, for example in his solo  show "Im Modder der Summenmutation" in 2013 in the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, you can get the feeling of having happened into a kind of cathartic trap from which you will emerge from with your judgment re-set after Bock’s shock therapy cleansing of the rational senses.

Friendly companionship

This confusion not only stems from the contents and items constituting his sets, which range from shaving cream to glittering feathers, monster-like costumes, cream, paints, or aluminum foil but also include the discomfiting exhibition architecture: in 2012 visitors to his show “Cumulated Sum Mutations” in the Julia Stoschek Collection in Düsseldorf had to venture to climb, squeeze their way through narrow shafts, walk past bloody massacres or push their heads into a box in order to get a glimpse of Bock’s gigantic film archive.

John Bock, Im Modder der Summenmutation, Bundeskunsthalle Bonn, 2013, Image via  johnbock.de

If it were not so brutal you might imagine you were at a fair, in the quivering labyrinth of some of other fun house. After all, even though it might seem somewhat difficult in the face of such much slaughter you should not forget Bock’s humor: Whether he gives away Ananas Sandwiches at art fairs or makes Plastikbecher-Knet-Frösche for his audience at nighttime exhibition openings in Berlin in the end Bock’s performances are always looking for a friendly, and incidentally, also a completely safe means of socializing.

John Bock, Große Erscheinung der ins Licht getretenen TRIEBKREATUR, ABC Art Fair, Berlin, 2014, image via johnbock.de