Article by Sofia Bergmann // Jan. 08, 2019
When familiarity and mystery fuse until they are indistinguishable from each other, the boundless space for different possible meanings suddenly opens. John Bock’s solo exhibition ‘Unheil’ blurs these boundaries of perception, first with his film Unheil (Mischief) and then with his installation, which throws us into the setting of the film and further opens the convoluted space of truth and fiction.
Set in a Medieval town, the film has a theatrical quality, as the behaviours and actions of the characters are exaggerated almost to the point of satire. Nevertheless, its relatively dark and heavy plot yields over-the-top expressions from the actors. There is little dialogue as the story opens: a mother is seen tending to her sick daughter, whom she is then told must be sacrificed to the forest. The viewers patiently but curiously watch the mother perform healing rituals with objects like egg shells, dried plants and twigs–also recurring in the installation–until the daughter mysteriously disappears.
The scene cuts to a seemingly-possessed naked man crawling through the forest until the woman takes him in, and he becomes another protagonist. The black dirt spewing from his mouth as he tries to speak, his black dead eyes and animalistic demeanor, are so preposterous that only his seriousness is what keeps the audience immersed in the narrative.
His shamanic rituals hypnotize and tempt the woman to ask him for knowledge of her child, taking her through a terrifying web of hypnotic hallucinations and images that consistently present her, and by association us, with chilling situations and possibilities. Characteristic of Bock’s process, the narrative dissolves into visual layers with cinematographic methods that create complex aesthetic combinations of the familiar and unfamiliar.
This slalom through the familiar and mysterious creates a headspace emulated in the next room containing the installation. A small doorway blocked by a curtain discretely invites viewers after the screening. The darkness, horror-style background noises and sheer resemblance to the film immediately evoke a discomforting hesitance to explore the spooky ‘scene’ that takes up the entire exhibition hall. Some pieces are shrouded in darkness, while those that are dimly-lit are abstractly linked together by small components that further the narrative, as the viewers almost blindly search for meaning within the installation.
In the room we find recognizable props from the film, as well as a tall T-beam placed in the center of the room, which was used in a performance on the exhibition’s opening night, and holds a small projector showing one of Bock’s performance pieces. The majority of the installation, however, is comprised of massive stuffed burlap objects hanging from the ceiling; hand-made and quasi-sorcerous twig apparatuses; hay; scrap-wood structures; illusion machines; egg shells; stones; rags; creepy toys; and small voodoo-like objects placed so strategically that they almost lose their randomness. The installation makes us question our understanding of the film by obscurely furthering its narrative, questioning our intuition and rejection any overarching meaning.
The narrative within ‘Unheil (Mischief)’ is crafted with a certain amount of obfuscation, bringing the value placed on our perceptions into question by introducing alternative possibilities. We are forced to accept ambiguity and the uncertainty of our own truths.