foi9 Download


John G. Boehme (Canada), Bandura, Future Of Imagination 9, Singapore. Photo by Jason Lim
John G. Boehme (Canada)
Future of Imagination 9, Singapore
September 5, 2014
by Jennie Klein

John G. Boehme’s performance Bandura is premised on Albert Bandura’s 1977 book Social Learning Theory. Bandura posited that direct reinforcement could not account for all types of learning. His theory added a social element—that people could learn new social behaviors by watching others. Bandura proved his theory by using a Bobo toy (a blow up punching bag, weighted at the bottom with sand or water, that was widely availably for sale as a child’s toy in North America at the time that Bandura authored his book). Children would watch as an adult behaved violently towards the Bobo figure (which at the time was a smiling clown), and then imitate the violence through observation.

All of this sounds rather abstract and in fact, when Boehme attempted to explain his piece to me prior to my having seen it, the whole thing seemed like complicated scaffolding on which to erect a performance. As it turned out, Bandura was both more and less than what one might expect from a performance designed to entice violence.

The piece, which lasted for just over two hours, involved Boehm interacting violently with three “Bobo” toys, although only one of the toys actually had a clown on it. After patiently filling the base with sand or water, Boehme inflated the rest of the toy by manually blowing it up. He then began interacting with the Bobo as though it were a person—insulting it, speaking quietly into its “ear” in a low and threatening voice, punching it (which was what the original toy was designed for), and throwing it violently around the room. In between Bobo encounters, Boehme changed his clothes, almost as if he were a pugilist or a wrestler changing his uniform after each round. In each case, ordinary instruments that could be used to degrade or violate people were lying around and taken up against the hapless Bobos, who could only squeak in protest.

Throughout the performance the audience was invited by Boehme to treat the Bobos with equal violence. They were offered the tools (a gardening fork and space) or a bowl of fat, and asked to desecrate the toys. At one point Boehme aggressively at sunflower seeds and spit them at the Bobo. The bag of sunflower seeds was passed around the audience who were encouraged to do the same. Most of the audience members obliged Boehme. They cheerfully kicked the Bobo, spit on it, or threw animal fat at its smiling face. However, there was a sense of restraint. The audience members were adults for the most part. The violence against the Bobos was contained, clearly a performance rather than an atavistic gesture. In that sense, Bandura’s theories remained unproven.

On the other hand, Boehme’s performance against the Bobos seemed to verge into the territory of the real. For me, the power of Bandura came from Boehme’s ability to channel a belligerent, class-based masculinity (skin head or red neck in the U.S./chav in Britain). Boehme’s aggression towards the inanimate Bobos was creepy, and all too familiar for many of the audience members. With his shaved head and wide muscular body, Boehme radiated inchoate anger and brute strength. What was ultimately most disturbing about this piece was Boehme’s ability to channel a type of masculinity that is all too acceptable in today’s society. And so, whether or not Bandura was correct that violence is learned through observation of violence, what remained with Boehme’s audience members, or at least with me, was the appalling knowledge that this kind of violence exists, and how quickly what initially seems to be a more or less harmless action can in fact go very wrong, even or especially when taking place in countries that pride themselves on law and order.