Magazine article Artforum International

John Bock

Magazine article Artforum International

John Bock

Article excerpt

Ensconced in the cramped, nethermost level of a makeshift three-tiered Dantesque universe, the artist busies himself with some nasty alchemy. His materia prima: some vile, puslike goo. His laboratory: a tangle of tubes, cables, and wires feeding an ad hoc array of whining machines in a space suggesting a MIR space station teetering on the edge of total dysfunction. Sporting one of those grimy Russian tank helmets that resemble vintage college-football headgear a la Red Grange, our protagonist is in full-throttle mode as he goes through a set of routines apparently designed to produce "suffering in the artist." Crying out in largely incoherent German, he subjects himself to various trials - including a lashing from green peppers attached to a spinning Mixmaster - before slithering through a narrow passage up to the next tier. Popping through to level two, he finds his head and arms sheathed in plastic - a homemade bubble bodysuit - recalling all those space-age "white rooms" where workers "safely" handle virulent materials, from Ebola to spent uranium. If this bizarre real-time adventure, careening in and out of focus and wreaking havoc with everyday perception, begins to suggest some incipient allegory of the reception and creation of art - then you are closing in on John Bock.

In spirit and style, Bock's debut in New York at the Anton Kern Gallery, Maybe-Me-Be-Microworld, 1999, recalls the artist's earlier performances, in which the illusion of theater gave way to improvisational spontaneity and direct audience contact. The impulsive rhythms of Bock's "new theater" evoke the history of circus clowning, commedia dell'arte, and burlesque as well as his art-school education in Hamburg; that city's rich theatrical milieu has obviously left its mark. In "Young Scene 1998," held at the Wiener Secession last summer, he carried on inside another multilevel structure, this time a homemade tower comprising five distinct levels, his performance visible over a live television feed to those gathered below the makeshift turret. The New York audience, on the other hand, was able to stand a few feet away during most of the action. One of the segments that was mediated by closed-circuit camera involved his misadventures on tier two - the attempt to slip into the plastic sleeves and gloves of the bubble suit. Uncomfortably protected by his airless attire, Bock finds himself in a sterile white space empty but for five unusually large frogs. He abruptly begins a lecture making elementary diagrams on the floor and walls of the "lab" in a vague attempt to illustrate the difference between rational behavior and instinctual action. Expecting the frogs to be cooperative subjects and to move along his diagram "from point A to point B," he quickly discovers that, well, frogs will be frogs. As they leap away from Bock's terrorizing grasp, he resolutely announces his conclusion: "Can't reach! This is a variable!" Of course, this "lab/studio" is a parable of creativity, the pseudoscientific scene recalling Beuys's blackboard arcana, themselves an echo of Ionesco's privileging of the powers of creative instinct over rational inquiry.

Yet Bock's relationship to Beuys - the shamanistic precursor is directly referenced in the multilayered garb and multiple duffels - seems to partake as much of parody as homage. Even in the second level, where Bock's manifesto-like call for creative action most overtly brings Beuys to mind, there is none of the taut relevance associated with the Dusseldorf guru. Instead we find a fresh-faced playfulness to Bock's brisk lectures, elaborately unfolding formulas that stumble along in broken English or tongue-tied German, something simultaneously more open-ended and much more theatrical than what currently passes for performance art. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.