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John Bock
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essay John Bock, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

John Bock is a shaman. No, he’s a showman. A mad economist? A slapstick performer? Or perhaps he’s an idiot savant? If so, then it is Bock who has put the savant back in the idiot. It is increasingly difficult to categorize the work of this artist as it ranges across a wide variety of media and practices, including installation, performance, sculpture, theater, and film. What binds his works together is that they all exude an intensely manic, anarchically humorous energy and an improvisational, ad hoc quality in their construction and enactment. The performative quality of the work is at the heart of his artistic agenda. Drawing on the absurdist legacy of Dada, the Dionysian performances of the Vienna Actionists, Joseph Beuys’ shamanistic pedagogy, the agit-prop qualities of revolutionary street theater, and even the gothic heavy metal excess of Alice Cooper, Bock has developed his very own theater of the absurd that elevates multiple personalities to the level of an aesthetic strategy.

Much of the confusion surrounding Bock’s work (and even within it) can be explained by the fact that he studied both economics and art, simultaneously, while attending the university in Hamburg, Germany. His earliest works fully embraced this academic schizophrenia, taking the form of what he called “lectures” in which he would use a chalkboard or an overhead projector to diagrammatically map the dynamic connections between the art world and economic systems. As these lectures evolved and their level of narrative complexity increased, the artist added more and more props that eventually took the form of full-blown stage sets. The playful subversiveness of these performances was matched by his aberrant choice of materials of a provisional and idiosyncratic nature at best, including secondhand furniture and clothing, cotton balls, toothpaste, shaving cream, and copious effluvia of other household liquids.

Like many of his works, FoetusGottinMeMMe (FetusGodinSissy) (2002) is a sculpture that takes the form of lowbrow religious reliquary or an archaeological fragment. Its origins come from its use as a theater set for an outdoor performance staged by Bock near the Museum Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany, during the run of the exhibition Documenta 11. Four characters—The Actor, The Dead Man, The Farmer’s Wife, and I Theorist (played by Bock himself)—cavort on the stage as the “memme” (the sofa at the center of the installation) prepares to give birth to a divine child. As The Actor argues with I Theorist over his accommodations, food, wages, and travel arrangements, all hell breaks loose. Performers go crashing through walls as corn flakes, iceberg lettuce, dirt, and Nivea skin cream flow freely across the stage. It is as if we had walked in on a children’s summer theater production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, directed by Pee-wee Herman. Taking method-acting to a riotous extreme, Bock’s performances embrace as their anthem William Butler Yeats’ contention that “things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” creating wildly joyful if enigmatic works that speak to the absurdity of the human condition.

    Fogle, Douglas. “John Bock.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

    © 2005 Walker Art Center