Books: Katinka Bock
Sabeth Buchmann, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Kim West, Paraguay Press, Paris, 2010, £22, ISBN 978-2-918252-03-0
Artfully designed by Guillaume Mojon, this seductive book is published in the aftermath of three years of significant exhibitions for Bock. From the 2007 show at her gallerist, Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, Paris to the 2009 solo show at the Kunstverein, Nürnberg, more than 50 works are illustrated; many by way of high quality colour plates. The works are supported by three diverse essays—in English with German and French translations. A note on the outer cover tells us that the purpose of the book as a whole is ‘less to provide a first comprehensive overview of Katinka Bock’s work, than to combine the attempts of several writers at sorting out its elements and determining what they are, and how they relate to one another’.
Born in Frankfurt am Main in 1976, trained in Paris, Dresden and Berlin, Bock is in the European premier league of accomplished installation artists who can contend with the formal qualities of objects as poetic things as well as with the historico-contemporary significance of specific locations. Balancing artwork as supplicant catalyst with artwork as inexplicable thingomenon, Bock has garnered much critical acclaim within this time frame, and this book is an intelligent visiotextual appraisal of an impressively substantial practice.
In the first essay, art critic and SITE magazine editor, Kim West pursues Bock’s interest in ‘articulating space’—that aspect of the oeuvre which ‘uncovers the forces and the energies that traverse a certain architectonic space, exposing the room in its volume and with its relations of static tension.’ West’s approach is convincing, and his close analysis of works engaging.
The third essay, from art history professor, Sabeth Buchmann sees a much more overt application of theoretical readings to Bock’s works. Walter Benjamin, Craig Owens, Benjamin Buchloh, Giorgio Agamben, Pierre Bourdieu, and a few others you’ll recognise, are all packed in to a dense theoretical treatise. There is much critical insight in Buchmann’s entry, but there is a marked distance between the tenor of the works themselves and the elaboration.
It is with the second essay of this book, by Natascha Sadr Haghighian, that we have a curious ripple on the surface of the 'PlanoSpeed 120g/m2'. Intriguingly, the authorial voice is given to various actors and items throughout the essay. Beginning with a usually anonymous component of a gallery installation—‘I am a particle board screw’—the narrator’s role is passed to Dirk, a gallery technician, then to an email, next to a curator, then to the opening night itself: ‘Ich bin die Eröffnung’, ‘Je suis le vernissage.'
What Sadr Haghighian manages to do in this short essay is dramatise some of the material and social vectors which traverse a certain space and a certain practice. Importantly, this essay introduces a strand of humour which is absent in West’s contribution and anathema to Buchmann’s. Bock’s work evidentially has an ingredient of subtly smiling surrealist poetry, and Sadr Haghighian articulates that dimension.
For example, Buchmann critiques the signification of installation this way—‘site specificity turns out to be not a compelling precondition of the production of meaning but instead a form and set of methods for the establishment of transitory and hence unstable meaning… the model of site specificity loses the authority that localises what legitimates it in the unquestionable evidentness of a historical context.'
As a particle board screw, Sadr Haghighian makes much the same point: ‘We find ourselves in the former work floor of a factory which is now a Kunsthalle. Big wooden shipping crates are all around, bearing names and branded signs indicating which side is up and which side down. A forklift emits a warning signal while backing up.’
In short, West’s essay included, the texts take a productive detour through those objects of theory which might illuminate the works by proxy and they offer a grinning symbolical play with the objects of the art-making context. In doing so, powerfully underwritten as they are by the superb illustrations, the essays comment in a fitting way on a strain of existentialist absurdity in Bock’s sculptural installations. Call to mind here Iris Murdoch: ‘We are free, and the meaning of the universe depends on us, but we enter into a situation which is also partly formed.'
All told, this publication is a stylish and engagingly multivalent treatment of Bock’s work to date. Design, content and connotation work well in temporary synthesis, not to provide a comprehensive overview, but to speak of the serious and playful elements of the artist’s oeuvre in rewarding ways.
Ken Neil is Head of the Forum for Critical Inquiry at Glasgow School of Art