The I and the Other

English | Deutsch

The philosopher Martin Buber said, that only by confronting the other, man finally becomes himself. In this confrontation, the I loses its narcissistic structure (by experiencing) friction and resistance. This principle of dialogue is a reoccuring characteristic of Markus Rock’s work.

Ralf Hanselle (in the catalogue for the exhibition ‹Leib›)

Photo: B. Reich

In his latest artistic work Markus Rock invest­igates the complex and contrary meanings of human phys­i­cal­ity for the individual and his re­la­tion­ships. This work, which was created in 2014 and 2015 has been pre­sent­ed in Novem­ber 2015 in ‹larger than life size› prints in his ex­hib­i­tion «The I and the Other» in the ‹Kessel­haus› of the Ufer­studios in Berlin.

Here you find a film portrait by Frank Bertram about this work complex, filmed during the ex­hib­i­tion in Berlin.

Below please find an essay by Jan Großer written and pub­lished on the occasion of the ex­hib­i­tion. You can also down­load the press release for the ex­hib­i­tion with the print­able text here in English and in German (PDF).


Markus Rock’s photos are both brutal and tender at the same time, showing humans as they are. Alone and in rela­tion­ship. Their impact is not defined by their size. He gives us an oppor­tu­ni­ty to re­cog­nize the real I and the real Other.

Andreas Schäfer





Jan Großer

Markus Rock – The I and the Other

The human body is, depend­ing on one’s per­spec­tive, an ob­ject as well as the home of the human sub­ject. Its physical exist­ence poses the bound­aries, be­hind which the sub­ject is pro­tected and im­prisoned in a sort of existen­tial iso­la­tion. Never will I really be able to feel what another feels, never will I take his place or be fully united with him. He will always remain the Other to me, the un­fathom­able. Yet, the body is also the means, by which to come into con­tact with the Other and, at least, in part over­come this loneli­ness acquired at birth. Because the en­counter with the Other enve­lops me in a cloud of sensual im­pres­sions – his voice, his touch, his warmth and smell – which leave emo­tional traces in me, to be in­te­grated as memo­ries. In this manner, the Other may become part of me and I of the Other and we thus break through our iso­lation.

Being entered by the Other, how­ever, also pre­sents a danger to me. I cannot com­plete­ly know, alone control it. Will it hurt me, emo­tion­ally or phys­i­cally, or over­whelm me so that I can only feel and think the Other and no more myself? Caught be­tween my desire for union with the Other and my fear of it, I am facing a fun­da­men­tal dilemma.

In his current work, Markus Rock looks at this dilemma, the human body and its in­herent ambi­valence. Rock declines some of the in­numer­able con­stel­la­tions of this con­flict. In his pic­tures, the bodies appear in a vacuum with­out con­text – in their naked­ness before the black back­ground – reduced to their phys­i­cal pres­ence as objects, but in meeting the viewer also as sub­jects. The lying woman with her eyes closed remains dis­tant and passive, while the men who gaze di­rect­ly at the camera or de­cid­ed­ly away from it emerge as active sub­jects. Other figures stay occu­pied with their bodies as ob­jects or their inner ex­pe­ri­ence – the tattooed man who steps away from the viewer, the woman reaching be­tween her buttocks, and the man hold­ing his head in his hands. In their self-absorp­tion, these figures reveal them­selves also as sub­jects – as sentient, self-aware beings.

In the images of the couples, the en­counter with the Other is shown as a con­stant struggle, which poses the ques­tion of power – in the form of pene­tra­tion, the taking of as pos­ses­sion, the exer­cise of a force upon the Other – and the ques­tion of iden­tity – Who are you? How do you re­spond to me? How resilient are you; how resilient am I? This struggle is playing out in the conflict between the desire for and the fear of the Other, be­tween inti­macy and dis­tance, the fun­da­men­tal con­flict of human rela­tions.

When the figures gaze di­rect­ly into the camera, enter­ing into eye contact with the viewer, so to speak, we can feel clear­ly what is present in all the images. Every man ex­per­i­ences him­self in his dicho­to­mous exist­ence as self-aware spirit and phys­i­cal object, as an I and as an Other. Each en­counter with another person is the field, where this split is staged anew. As pain­ful as that may be, it remains our only hope.