London

John Bock

ICA - Institute of Contemporary Arts, London

It won’t come as a surprise to learn that the whole thing was bonkers. You could enter through a door but were strongly advised to climb a ladder—the first of many—to reach a crawl space. Once inside there were rooms on stilts, walkways, scaffolds, spaces built from cinder blocks, straw bales, wood, and tinfoil, and more tunnels to crawl through and ladders to climb. You could not explore this environment without at some point getting down on hands and knees or hiking up your skirt to clamber more easily from one level to another. Its title was “Klütterkammer,” a regional word referring to the sort of junk store–cum–workspace found on northern German farms of the kind on which John Bock grew up. It was both adventure playground and an Aladdin’s cave, into which Bock brought a selection of artworks, films, and ephemera signaling his interests and obsessions. The mix included both older artists—Otto Mühl, Vito Acconci, Paul Thek—and ones like Sarah Lucas, Rikrit Tiravanija, and Elke Krystufek, who are closer in age and part of the same internationally mobile community to which he belongs. But this is only a fraction of the story. John Maynard Keynes was in there somewhere along with the Cure and some memorabilia from Scott’s fatal Antarctic venture and Mallory’s doomed attempt on Everest, not to mention references to fashion, architecture, and agriculture.

One gallery served as a cinema for the screening of the 1973 horror comedy Theatre of Blood, in which an actor played by Vincent Price takes murderous revenge on all those critics who belittled his talents. Next door, the space was crisscrossed with lines over which blankets had been hung, dividing it up like a makeshift dormitory for refugees and allowing none of the artwork sufficient room to be enjoyed on its usual terms. Kippenberger rubs shoulders with Baselitz, for example, and a canvas clothing-construction for one of Franz Erhard Walther’s performances sits on a wall not far from a medicine cabinet containing a video by Pipilotti Rist, while a Manfred Pernice sculpture tries to gain some privacy by nestling between them.

As usual, Bock opened the show with lectures, in this case sketching in the connections among the assembled company: Mike Kelley wants to make a cubic smoke sculpture, Rudolf Schwarzkogler force-feeds Wiener schnitzel to a hairy monster. At one point he worries that the elaborate system of interrelationships he is drawing out on a large chart is in danger of becoming overbalanced because a John McCracken plank is resting on only one half of a Georg Herold wire sculpture. Mercifully, Rasputin’s fingernails save the day by restoring equilibrium. “Yesterday was the end of art history,” Bock began by telling us. “Today is the start of the new art history.” It’s a weird but compelling story. The system Bock outlines, linking works, ideas, economic forces, and political realities, is idiosyncratic but not solipsistic. It chides us for our cozy assumptions about how things should best be approached in order to make the most sense, because making the most sense is usually the least interesting or productive thing to do. “Klütterkammer” maintains that air of excited involvement and anxiety bordering on terror seen in Bock’s face as he drives a tractor manically across a field in one of his videos. A selection of these was also on show, displayed in ways that required the viewers to make at least as big a spectacle of themselves as the artist does.

Michael Archer