John Bock

John Bock in his Berlin studio. Photo © Maxime Ballesteros

Rethinking the retrospective as only John Bock can.

When Sleek visited John Bock’s studio, he was in the middle of grand plans for a retrospective, “Im Modder der Summenmutation”, at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn. “A typewriter going ‘click, click, click’, a needle pushing into a sausage, going ‘kwawtch, kwawtch’, then a spoon going into a cup of tea, going ‘pwshh, pwshh, pwshh’”: talking to John Bock about his work is a little like hearing the set of “Home Alone” narrated. “Over here is a stage, and this is a film being screened that a dummy will fall out of on to the audience,” he goes one, jabbing and scribbling on a rough sketch of the exhibition space to make his point. If the idea of a retrospective seems anathema to Bock’s work, it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the artist himself. His focus on making something that excites curiosity and creates an adventure for his audience, is clear from even a brief glance at his work. “I decided to bring back the idea of a retrospective but with a new code, a new dress,” he says. He also dismisses the idea of video installations documenting past performances and works: “When I’m dead, curators can do that. Right now I have everything in my head, so I can reuse this material.”

Further concepts for the retrospective centre around the mystery and “magic” of cinema and art production. A Fellini-esque caper involves visitors in a film work of which they may or may not be the stars. “The audience will be there while we’re doing the movie, so the camera may also film them and how they look at us. There will be two cameras – a real camera and a fake camera – so the audience won’t know when we’re shooting them.” Bock describes his plan to ham up his directing for the benefit of the live audience: while he’s giving them a behind-the-scenes peek into the creation of a movie, destroying illusions about creating art, he also presents a new set of intrigues, namely, who is being filmed? What is real and what is fake? Where does fiction start and reality end when you’re in the middle of a story being told? “I break the mystery and also build up a new one.”

A further room, Sleek is told, will play host to a performance featuring an as-yet unnamed celebrity, in whose ear Bock will whisper a sentence. After the performance the celebrity’s eyelash will be exhibited. Paying to have a celebrity be part of his work is an aspect of the show that holds no interest for Bock, though he likes the concept of using this star in such a trivial way, considering the amount he will have to pay. “I like to not think about money, but to think about the illusion.” 

As the recognition grows, there are additional administrative and budgetary concerns that Bock cites as distractions. But despite these constraints, he continues to be liberated by his work: “When I do art, then I am free”. 

John Bock’s moves around the Berlin kieze have reflected his shifting lifestyle, away from the art-scene party lifestyle of youth (Kreuzberg) and towards the calmer, more family-oriented attitude he has now (Prenzlauer Berg, Wedding). Though the artist is “based in Berlin”, it is a label that Bock is keen to shake off, pointing out its irrelevance to his somewhat nomadic lifestyle. 

Nevertheless, it is hard not to see the city’s essence in his urgency to not be tied down: “I will never buy a studio because I need the possibility to change. I like to be free.” With Bock’s endlessly creative well of ideas to draw from, that freedom is in no danger any time soon.

Taken from Sleek 39  “Future / Perfect”

Human, All Too Human