John Colle Rogers, Permission Denied

The last of three studio visits for the THIS INVENTED EARTH show which premiers May 29th, 2010 at Swee(t)Art Drawing Gallery

John Colle Rogers creates art that is half-weapon, half-joke and all good. Installations of steel pteradactyls flying over bombed out cities, blueprints of remodeling artschools for paramilitary campaigns, dioramas of castles on tanks mowing over hoardes of zombies…yup, he has done them all and more. He fronts a psuedo-name corporation that is a para-military group called JohnKo that is ready to take over when we need them most, ie, when the zombie apocolypse begins. Despite all this madness, which I believe is ultimately sane in the face of the REAL madness, namely, the media-military and their whole complex, John is a disciplined scholar and wonderful gentleman. He just has an itchy trigger finger, that’s all…

interview one:

Obi: I sure had to get through a lot of hoops to get through to interview the artist behind JohnKo. What is up with that?


 Warning: Intruder’s IP Identified and Recorded.

For your records — IIN#198374OK9481

Obi: Is it true that you found out that your art work was on a government list of terrorist propaganda?


Warning: Intruder’s IP Targeted for Closure if Attempts Persist.

For you records — IIN#198374OK9485 


Warning: Immediate Action is Underway. Cease and Desist Immediately.

JohnKorps Forces on Standby. Final Warning.

For you records — IIN#198374OK9488 

a second interview:

 Obi: It seems like everything you do, John, adds up to and informs a post apocolyptic narrative that is at one scary and funny? Do those adjectives work?

 John: I think growing up in the cold war in North Dakota has a lot to do with this seeming dichotomy. We were 30 miles from the largest B-52 base in the country, one that was tasked with maintaining the tactical nukes and being constantly at the ready. We were out playing one day in third grade,  and we felt this WHOOOOMP come through the ground. We had all seen the duck and cover films (this was still the 70’s), so we looked at each other, scanning the horizon for the telltale mushroom cloud, and finally went back to play. Turns out one of the bombers had exploded while refueling, blown out all the windows in the base, but didn’t have any nukes on board… So we were just suspended in this play world of impending doom – if North Dakota was to secede from the nation at that point is would have been the third largest nuclear power – and I think the current apocalyptic bent of my work is still an attempt to capture that uncanny blend of total Midwestern security and potential Armageddon.  Cheery doom.

     It’s also informed by the current state of the world. I often turn to my mother and say, “Rome is burning” with a smile, because it feels like this lurching slo-mo tumble that we are involved in as a whole people (not just the US) is so absurdly outlandish – the divides between people, the overt colonilizations, the glut of objects and technology – that we just have to see the crow-perspective humor in it all. It’s funny because it’s absurdly scary.

   Post-apocalyptic thinking is also a way of simplifying, thinking about how we would behave if the SHIT really went down. What kind of animals would we become in a survival world? Are we raccoons or unicorns? Regal idealists or little thieves, or regal little idealistic thieves?

 Obi: Where did this over-arching, end-of-the-world preoccupation come from? Do you feed it by making the art or are you helped, almost cathartically, by getting it out of the system, so to say?

John: Ooops,, I guess I answered that first question already.  I think the art keeps me laughing about it all — putting a filter of my own interpretation over the very real horror of contemporary events. I think the work feeds itself, spins a deeper narrative, which becomes a defensive shell for me. But it also is connected with the god-like control of the diorama. There is a satisfaction that I remember as a child in making a scene in the sandbox. A kind of “On the 7th day, he saw his work and it was good,” that is certainly a catharsis of ordering – of creating a complete system — a hermetic reflection of my imagined world. Of course I always destroyed those scenes, whereas the drawings and dioramas become precious echoes of my attempt to document and freeze my thoughts about the Plunge. And yes, I think the Plunge is inevitable. I hope it won’t occur, because it will not be fun — it will be horrifying. “Nasty, brutish, and short,” as Hobbes said once of human life.  But at the rate of our current gross consumption, it seems like the only endgame of our appetites is depletion and strife. So I guess I see my work as Combat Art depicting our war against ourselves and the earth, which makes it precious and cathartic, and also perpetuates itself as a way of staying above the madness with a thin veneer of imagination. I don’t think you can live in Oakland and be a true escapist, just enough to pull a palatable filter over the desperation. The Raccoons tend to tickle you into seeing the lighter side of things, as well…

 Obi: Of all your projects, tell me the story of the one that got out of control. I know it had to happen at some point.

 John: West Point Military Academy, June 1,  2002. George W was giving the commencement speech, and my nephew was graduating. I knew security would be bonkers, so I had been very careful to take all my sharp and pointy objects out of my pocket, and just had my video camera, a tripod, and my sketchbook. I was dressed pretty straight, with khaki pants, a nice blue dress shirt, and rainbow suspenders like Mork from Ork.

   In the sketchbook, I had drawings for a bazooka that shoots rubber chickens and for another sculpture which is a Lava Lamp mounted on top of a Russian rocket launcher,  which shoots cone-shaped warheads the same shape as a Lava Lamp.  Security checked my camera and the tripod, but stopped short at my drawings… “Please stand over to the side, sir.”

    I started getting a little nervous. One fellow came up to me, looked at my sketchbook and at me,  said, “I only do ID’s.” And walked off. By this time Bush is droning away in the background, his famous pre-Afghanistan preemptive strike speech, which he would implement in a matter of months. So I wait. A pair of tall fellows with the classic sunglasses comes up and the interrogation begins.

   “What are you thinking bringing a book like this into an event of this sort. Don’t you realize these kinds of drawings could frighten people?”

   “Do you have any feelings of ill-will towards the president?”

   “Do you belong to any organizations with anti-nationalist leanings?”

   “Did anyone pay you to come here today and sketch our security systems?”

 And after reading a coupe of pages of stream of consciousness poetry,

     “So you fancy yourself a poet, huh?” 

He reads some more.

     “Do you have a history of mental illness?”

    And on and on for about 20 minutes, with W outlining his plan for retaliation in the background and proud parents of the class of 2002 streaming past me. The thought ran through my mind, “Perhaps I should have brought my toothbrush, we may be here awhile…”

    So finally they ask for my contact info, and I give them my card, which proudly reads

         Blacksmith, Zenarchist, Conceptual Object Maker

They look at it with some curiosity, but refrain from further interrogation.

  “Now everything you’ve told us here today is true, right?”

   “Uh, yes. Of course”

   “Because if it’s not true, and we find out, it’s a bad bad thing.

    And that was how I was spanked by Agents Adams and Jackson of the New York Secret Service. That’s about as far out of control as I can talk about with your Security Clearance still at Level 3…  Thanks for the interview, and don’t forget to get your DN-42 Zombie Innoculation. Dr. Harrison will set up an appointment on your secure line…

This document contains information purported to be true by JohnKo Fact Finding Division # 117B, any perceived deviations from Truth are purely the illusion of the reader, and form no basis of fact in any case.

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