John Bock

Article Bio Works Merits Projects
identity, perception, transformation, transgression, transition
Visual Arts (Action art, installation art, performance, video art)
Europe, Western
created on:
August 24, 2009
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since August 31, 2009. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
information provided by:
Other languages:
John Bock
John Bock. Courtesy of the artist


John Bock´s Surreal World Theater

"The Greased Bendsteering in the Luggage Gets Tangled Up with the White Shirt"

"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" between sense and nonsense.
"I started with theoretical, mathematical lectures, and I never wanted to be an actionist. You can just slip right into it, build a costume, build an object, then you tell yourself: the white wall isn’t enough – so you build a stage set – and then a stage, and that’s how you keep adding new elements," says the action artist John Bock, who for years has belonged to the "yuppies" of German contemporary art.

In 2007, Schirn in Frankfurt exhibited the documenta11 and Biennale participant’s grotesquely ironic post-dada-humorous film art: lavishly staged films that are so surreal they elude rational interpretation. His video debut – a film shot in his own kitchen – was screened there as well: "Porcelain Isoschizo Kitchen Act of the Neurodermatitic Scrap Falling in the Coffee Maelstrom." For his exhibition in Los Angeles, he created a gangster film called "Palms" – though a French chateau, a bunker and a North German farmhouse are locations he has used for his sets. "I´m probably the worst director on earth, because I keep my mouth shut," says Bock, who destructs the film genre and cements the whole chaotic thing into a surreal world theater.

His career as an artist was not really planned. Bock studied business in Hamburg, but he later changed over to the Academy of Fine Arts. Today he is a professor. Since winter 2004/05 he teaches sculpture at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe. Early on in his career, he turned to the world of daily life of his material. And the traps of this everyday life continue to intrigue him.

In the early nineties, he invented his "speeches": art performances in which he integrated elements of academic lectures. But soon John Bock´s work developed into increasingly large-scale installations made of everyday objects and materials – wood, cardboard, food, cotton wadding, cleaning products, and shaving cream, which simultaneously served as props for his actions. The artist documented his actions on film and then integrated it into his installations – a creative circle with an always open end.

In 2000, Bock crossed the Weser River with a homemade raft; in 2001 he created his first independent video work: "Porcelain Isoschizo Kitchen Act of the Neurodermatitic Scrap Falling in the Coffee Maelstrom": A fast-paced film, showing a 2-minute fight between the artist and food that has come to life. Just a year later for documenta11, Bock presented, as he called it, "a kind of theater piece", including public rehearsals and performances. In an interview he said: "I am concerned about the reception, about investigating the process of creation: At one point we see the rehearsals, next to it a video projection of it. We see the performers getting sewn into full body suits on another stage. The costumes are bought from ´H & M´, that’s also a part of it."

And that, too, is part of the everyday life of art exhibitions: Visitors like to walk by video works and films, turning instead to the paintings and photographs – to what is hanging on the wall. But that, says Bock, is not a problem. There should be no compulsion to watch. Everybody is free and it should stay that way. But usually people stay put when Bock’s films are shown, or when he holds lectures with titles like: "The Greased Bendsteering in the Luggage Gets Tangled Up with the White Shirt," or when he creates theater, exhibits installations and sculptures – all these elements are interwoven in novel ways to form a story at the "green border," between sense and nonsense. A story quoted from art history (the Dadaists, Surrealists, or even Beuys) – but always the "I", the unconscious, the subjective stands in the foreground.

Bock was a guest at the Venice Biennale in 1999 and 2005, and at the Manifesta 2004, in San Sebastian. Major solo exhibitions followed. In 2004, Bock created the film "Guest" in which he shows the world from a rabbit’s perspective – a fascinating trick that makes the common elements of one’s own home seem alien.

In recent years, Bock moves from short videos to more narrative films with actors, such as "Meechfieber" or "Salon de Beton," but their meaning is always vague: It´s not the clarity, not the coherence which interest him, but the hidden, unconscious, subjective.

Last year, Bock was honored with the Arken-Award from the Danish Arken Museum. According to the jury he won the prize because, "he dares to show the grotesque, absurd, and insane." In a new work conceived for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt entitled, "GlidderModderlauf of the Quasi-me´s" ("wrappings bend into analytical diagrams. The animalistic Existo sprays lubing- sparks") John Bock presents his own clothing pieces on a running belt and models mutate into quasi-me’s. That too is an attempt to order the world through art, to create a new world, absurd, bizarre and yet, as the artist says, filled with moments of truth, "quasi hidden in playful seriousness."

Author: Marc Peschke


Born in Gribbohm

Graduated from the Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Hamburg, Germany

John Bock lives and works in Berlin.


Exhibition / Installation,
Film Retrospective, Mikrokosmos Cinema, Athens, Greece; PARA - SCHIZO ensnarled, IAS (Insa Art Space), Arts Council Korea, Seoul, Korea; Palms, REDCAT, Los Angeles, CA, USA; Martian Museum of Terrestrial Art, Barbican Art Gallery, London, UK; Laughing in a Foreign Language, Hayward Gallery, London, UK; Inside Beyond, GióMARCONI, Milan, Italy

Exhibition / Installation,
Beyond the Country, Lewis Glucksman Gallery University College Cork, Ireland; Artists as Collectors, Heidelberger Kunstverein, Heidelberg, Germany; The High Desert Test Sites, Los Angeles, USA; The Harder You Look, Eleni Koroneou Gallery, Athens, Greece; John Bock, Sadie Coles HQ, London, UK; John Bock, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, USA; Fit to Print: printed media in recent collage, Gagosian Gallery, New York, USA; Soufflé, eine Massenausstellung, Kunstraum Innsbruck, Germany

Exhibition / Installation,
John Bock – Mit Schisslaveng, Anton Kern Gallery, New York, USA; Zero Hero, The Moore Loft, Miami, USA; Anstoss Berlin, Kunst Macht Welt, Haus am Waldsee, Berlin, Germany; Dada’s Boys, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland; John Bock’s Medusa im Tam Tam Club, Staatsoper unter den Linden, Berlin, Germany; John Bock: Lütte mit Rucola, Klosterfelde, Berlin, Germany; The Hugo Boss Prize 2006, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, USA; Nöle, Schauspielhaus, Zürich, Switzerland; Surrogat, Netherlands Media Art Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Exhibition / Installation,
A-Buba, Stella Lohaus Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium; John Bock, Frac Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, Marseille, France; Skipholt, Kling & Bang, Reykjavik, Iceland; PestKOP im black rebel motorcycle club, Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Berlin, Germany; Girls on Film, Zwirner and Wirth Gallery, New York, USA; The Addiction, Gagosian Gallery, Berlin, Germany; Abnormal, Nyehaus, New York, USA; Dionysiac, Fondation Cartier Pour L’Art Contemporain, Paris, France; Venice Biennial 2005, Venice, Italy; 8th Biennale d’Art Contemporaian de Lyon, Lyon, Paris, France; Rough Diamond, Program, London, UK; Reykjavík Arts Festival 2005, Reykjavík Art Mueum, Reykjavík, Iceland

Exhibition / Installation,
John Bock, Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milan, Italy; Klutterkammer, ICA, London, UK; Manifesta 5, European Biennial of Contemporary Art, Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain

Exhibition / Installation,
John Bock, Gió Marconi, Milan, Italy

Exhibition / Installation,
Im Dilemma der ExistoEntropie, Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn, Germany; Centro d’Arte Contemporanea, Siena, Italy; Eleni Koroneu, Athens, Greece


“Ars Viva” prize, Germany


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

The Spirit of the Haus

20 years of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt

(02 September 09 - 30 September 09)