Sala Reale della Stazione Centrale, Milan
November 9 – December 5, 2004
Half mad scientist and half Buster Keaton, both a naughty child and a philosopher of chaos, John Bock constructs his installations, performances and videos as playful, surreal universes in which logic seems strangely befuddled—miniature worlds where everything is both connected and isolated. As in some noisy colorful carnival parade, his masked characters are fuelled by a chaotic energy, their actions trapped in an illogical, fanciful theatre of the absurd. A giant magnifying glass trained on the simplest, most insignificant objects, Bock’s work constantly blends different ideas and elements, which are bound together and interwoven to build a tower of Babel that echoes with sounds, colors and images. His videos and performances are derailments of thought and yet lucid collages of different languages and traditions, transforming daily life and para-scientific wisdom into an endless anthology of gags, puppets, circus acrobats, and popular traditions turned upside down.
In the elegant, austere setting of the royal waiting room in Milan’s central railway station, John Bock presents the European premiere of his first full-length film: Meechfieber (Milk Fever, 2004) is a unique, fanciful encyclopedia of the characters who live in Bock’s deranged world. Set on the farm in Gribbohm where the artist was born and raised, Meechfieber recounts the grotesque adventures of a farm couple who must come to grips with surreal machines, bric-à-brac spaceships, costumed animals and frenetic dances. Featuring two professional actors, Anne Tismer and Lars Rudolph, the latter of whom appeared in Run Lola Run (1999), Meechfieber is John Bock’s first work shot on film. A slapstick comedy and imaginary journey through everyday life, Meechfieber was co-produced by Fondazione Nicola Trussardi and the 54th Carnegie International at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.
For his first solo show with an Italian institution, John Bock decided for the first time in his career to present only videos and films. In Gast (Guest, 2004) Bock’s pet rabbit hops curiously through the living room amid furniture, rugs, sofas, and carrots; in Boxer (2002) two characters dressed up as circus clowns fight in a makeshift ring amid a riot of geometric masks, colorful protuberances, dirty punches and flying vegetables; in Alice Cooper (2001), the artist, decked out as a rock star, runs from one side of the screen to the other as if on a concert stage or in a packed stadium; in Trail of Deutsche Bank (2002), he struggles with a lawnmower gone berserk; and in A gentleman works when a gentleman works a work (2002), two puppets help him describe the hidden mechanisms of his eccentric personal world.
Officially opened in 1931 to replace a previous transport hub that dated back to 1864, Milan’s Stazione Centrale was designed by Ulisse Stacchini in 1912, who modeled it after Union Station in Washington, DC. The vast building is truly majestic, and Frank Lloyd Wright called it the most beautiful railway station in the world. At the far end of its right wing is the Sala Reale pavilion, a luxurious space that was once a waiting room reserved for the use of King Vittorio Emanuele II and members of the House of Savoy. This pavilion is laid out on two floors, with the actual Sala Reale at platform level, and Sala delle Armi at street level; it has a separate entrance that gives onto Piazza Luigi di Savoia, just next to the infamous underground track 21, where deportation trains would set off for concentration camps under the Fascist regime. Luxuriously decorated, the room also bears witness to the damnatio memoriae that took place in Italy after the fall of Fascism. Decorations depicting Mussolini were torn away, but swastikas can still be found among the inlays of the wooden floor: a macabre tribute to dictator Adolf Hitler, who visited Sala Reale on one of his trips to Italy.
John Bock was born in Gribbohm, Germany in 1965, and lives and works in Berlin. Many cultural institutions have organized solo exhibitions of his work, including the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin (2009), P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York (2007), Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (2007), FRAC in Marseilles (2005), the Institute of Contemporary Art in London (2004), the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2000), Kunsthalle Basel (1999) and Wiener Secession in Vienna (1998). His performance pieces, sculptures and films have been featured in major international contemporary art festivals such as Performa in New York (2007), the Venice Biennale (2005 and 1999), Manifesta 5 in Donostia-San Sebastián (2004), Documenta 11 in Kassel (2002), and the Yokohama Triennale (2001). He has taken part in group shows at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2009), Centre Pompidou in Paris (2009), the Barbican Art Gallery and the Hayward Gallery in London (2008), ZKM Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe (2008), Malmö Kunsthalle (2008), the New Museum in New York (2007), and Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall (2007).