Review of John Bock “FischGratenMelkStan”
Published November 2010 in Arts US


Berlin-based artist John Bock’s experiential exhibition “FischGratenMelkStan” (Herringbone Milking Parlor) is the final project at Berlin’s Temporäre Kunsthalle, which opened two years ago. For the closing exhibition Bock has created an enterable sculptural/architectural structure, imagine odd modular rooms made of every kind of material; a bisected trailer, old tires, corrugated plastic, socks, burnt pizzas, blankets all collaged together and connected by doorways, ramps tunnels and stairs with dead-ends and peek through holes. All of this is stacked four levels high (36’) and held together by a scaffolding system.

Bock has adventurously and perversely put over 150 works by 63 artists, architects, filmmakers designers and composers in over 23 unique spaces he has created and named. A very partial list of space names and artists placed within the spaces are Boom Fluids with Franz Ackermann and Rirkrit Tiravanija, Virus Meadow with musical scores by Edgar Varese, Hans Lachmenmann, Iannis Xenakis and an Alice Cooper poster, Sexy Socks includes Mathew Hale and a Franz West, Albert Olen collaboration, Shadow of the Maggot with Paul McCarthy, Saul Fletcher, and a Traditional Congolese ritual sculpture. Other various interesting inclusions are two architectural models by the conceptual architect John Hydyk, a certified Jane Russell cigarette butt, props from the F. W. Muranu film Nosferatu, Sergio Leone’s film Once Upon a Time in the West projected on a loop alongside a video by the British band Also The Trees, and a live performance by the band one evening.

John Bock has described his art as a Gesamtkunstwerk or total artwork and this mash-up variant is at once strange, confusing and intoxicating. Its sharp severe spaces recall both Artaud’s theater of cruelty and the intimate dark psychological spaces of a Harold Pinter play. One doesn’t simply view this exhibition, as much as one invades and inhabits it, experiencing it from the inside out. The individual artworks are installed on top, alongside and under each other folding in and out of the spaces of Bocks inventive installation design where the walls, ceiling and floor treatments themselves form an artwork. The effect of the multiple collisions is that concentrated looking is unavailable. Instead of the focus being on any individual work or there being a possibility for aesthetic contemplation, our attention is divided into multiple channels. We become increasingly physically aware of our bodies moving through and experiencing the relationships between the works as well as the relationships between the works and the spaces. In this way Bock creates situations and occasions where passively looking or standing outside is difficult. Instead, we are always in the midst or belly of the work.

In this curatorial performance Bock is riffing on the curator as auteur trend established in the 90’s and ubiquitous in the first decade of the millennium, where top billing goes to star curators. It’s clear from this exhibition that Bock rejects curating strategies which position works from a didactic knowing or a critical outside view. He is not interested in gathering works under an imposed theme, scheme or rubric. Instead he directs and activates the works, setting them in play within his funhouse exhibition structure. Here normal rules don’t apply.

Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin is located at Schloßplatz 1, and FischGratenMelkStand runs from February 7, 2010 to August 31, 2010