Biennale of Sydney 2010 – John Bock

john bock’s fischgratenmelkstand 2008

“I’m probably the worst director on earth because I keep my mouth shut,” says John Bock – one of the most important German artists of our time. His work oscillates between video, performance and installation art. A creative cycle that is always open-ended – at the “green border”…

German artist John Bock’s film features wild, dandyish Rococo costumes, bizarrely fabricated machines and stream-of-consciousness mutterings that raise questions about the dark side of the Age of Enlightenment.

Fischgrätenmelkstand kippt ins Höhlengleichnis Refugium (2008) conjures up an entirely different mood and century; Bock plays the role of a decadent, powdered, ancien régime dandy, trapped, questioning the meaning of life, with an opulently clad, similarly bewigged young woman in a clinical, tiled space. Under fluorescent lights a paranoid pantomime of the sexes plays out around a strange homemade apparatus. This re-enactment of the time of the European Enlightenment re-imagines the rational world with its hope for all-embracing encylopaedic knowledge as a form of absurd, sadistic theatre.

Perhaps best known for his live, unpredictable performances, John Bock blurs artistic convention, constructing a boundless world all his own. The artist often employs uncanny costumes, assemblages, and props that both reference and examine a range of social, political, philosophical, and aesthetic interests.

John Bock dares the grotesque, absurd and mad, staking himself in the work. Indirectly he exposes our own insatiable desire to create order and system in a world that is fundamentally chaotic. He criticises any and all scientific thought that has defined our perspective on the world in the past centuries. And he constantly explores the boundaries of art.

John Bock combines sculpture, installation, performances and film. Alongside his studies at Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg he read economy at university. In his works he utilizes this background: Art, nature and science meet anew. He often performs as a starry-eyed scientist with homemade three-dimensional contraptions, speaking fluent gibberish with terms borrowed from the world of science. In this way he parodies man’s desire for logic and systems.


John Bock uses the form of performance as artistic medium, combining theater, video, installation and sculpture. Most of his early actions or performances were termed “lectures” and originated in the idea of an academic lesson on economic concerns.

Starting out from that basis he has developed over time increasingly complex, large-scale installations in which he employs simple everyday objects and materials, like wood, fabric, wire, cotton wadding, toothpaste, shaving cream, cleaning products, and food, which he treats and combines in unusual ways in order to create simple structures of life as well as art’s evolution into abstract forms and paranoid models.

In his lectures Bock combines speech, dramatic elements with these everyday objects, which are transformed into sculptures. His performances are various and most of the time he uses amateur actors. After each lecture, the objects that he has used are left on stage creating a theatre-collage. The language he uses is not very clear, it is a mutation language that flows on the sculptures.

The sculptures as objects are more relicts, vehicles, instruments, which try to combine the artist with the audience and the outside world. This auction comes from a personal utopia of the artist who wants to share it with the audience, hoping that this utopia will influence it. Significant role in the work of Bock plays this interactive connection with the public

In recent years John Bock has concentrated on experimental art films. He caricatures several film genres: Hollywood movies, costume dramas and violent films. He still stars in the films but increasingly employs actors.

John Bock has participated in two Venice Biennials (1999 and 2005) and in Documenta 11 (2002). He has given performances and had solo shows at MoMA in New York, ICA in London and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, among others

Bock (b. 1965 Gribbohm, Germany) attended the Hochschule für Bildende Künste (HfBK) in Hamburg.

He has exhibited internationally for the last 15 years including solo exhibitions at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, The Moore Loft in Miami, Institute of Contemporary Arts in London and Arken Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.

He also participated in Documenta 11 (2002), the 2001 Yokohama Triennial, and the 48th Venice Biennale (1999).

Bock lives and works in Berlin.

museum of contemporary art

1 Comment

  1. back in the lab… at Erica Seccombe - July 18, 2010

    […] Bock’s absurd and humorous film features an 18th century powdered inventor and his trapped accomplice. It highlights the complexity of language, narrative, history, performance and sculpture in the pursuit of scientific endeavor, questioning the meaning of life. It is satire evoking Descarte’s treatise Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences (1637). I’ve found the best and most current review with images of Bock’s work  at de de ce blog. […]

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