Expansive installations bearing darkly humorous, lyrical titles play a key role in the artist’s oeuvre. Quotidian objects—articles of clothing, toiletries, electrical appliances, furniture, wallpaper and sometimes even agricultural machinery—form ludicrous artistic landscapes subject to auditory and sometimes olfactory manipulation. They are also the sites for the artist’s films and performances, the so-called lectures, and can be understood as a Gesamtkunstwerk that both exposes and dissolves the traditional boundaries of the exhibition in a form of sustained institutional critique.
The films often play a synthesizing role in these installations. Initially created only in tandem with Bock’s live performances, recent years have seen them draw on an increasingly complex array of cinematographic typologies. Examples include Der magische Krug (The Magic Jug, 2013), which taps the aesthetic vocabulary of silent film, but also Unheil (Doom, 2018), a radical mash-up of the medieval fantasy genre. Other works, such as Unzone Eierloch (Unzone Egghole, 2013), are amalgamations of almost every genre, from experimental, horror and gangster films, road, sci-fi and Z movies, as well as romantic comedies and crime dramas. Bock’s films are often set in a schizophrenic, fairytale-like parallel world where adversaries might be strangled by the intestines spilling from the protagonist’s abdomen. Despite their freewheeling, associative play with words, objects and narrative elements, these works have all the coherence of feature films. A number of costumes and props shown in the films also reappear in the cosmos of objects that make up the surrounding installations. The props and objects become autonomous agents, bringing the film to life as unpredictable characters in their own right.
Bock calls his total works of art Summenmutationen—a neologism combining the German words for “sum” and “mutation”—an allusion to the fact that interdependencies arise between objects, actors, films and viewers and that the overall arrangement always leads to something new. The concept opens up an intricate discursive web for his works, and the word itself is inspired by the language of economics and informative yet hard-to-decipher German coinages such as Kunstwohlfahrt (art-welfare), Liebeselastizitäten (love-elasticities) or Triebgenialitäten (drive-genialities).
John Bock’s work clearly distances itself from the pathos of Viennese Actionism and its ideology of physical and sexual liberation. It also diverges from the explicit video works of Paul McCarthy, Tony Oursler and Mike Kelley, with whom the artist is often compared. Perhaps the biggest influence on Bock’s artistic universe can be found in Antonin Artaud’s notion of the absurd Theatre of Cruelty as a subversive counter-model to reality. Bock’s contemporary take on existentialist Dadaism defies the efficiency-loving and alignment-requiring neoliberal present with an absurd and glorious breach of boundaries and taboos. He counters the omnipresent disciplining of body and psyche with a radical staging of physicality and unrestraint. His oeuvre consistently exposes the anarchic chaos that we collectively repress.