Revering Humanity

In an apocalyptic future, the vestiges of the world as we know it today form a scrap heap of artefacts that tell a tale of a human touch no longer needed in a society driven by automation. Yet the latest show of the American artist Josh Kline is more hopeful as well as a wake-up call for us to revere the living.

American artist Josh Kline, who lives and works in New York City, makes his first major museum exhibition in Scandinavia at Astrup Fearnley Museet in Oslo with the disturbingly relevant ‘Antibodies’. His artistic practice, which focuses on the technological, economic and biological changes affecting human life in the 21st century, has been widely acknowledged for raising crucial questions about our future and continued existence as a species in the face of Instability and crisis, increased social and economic inequality during an era in which a neo-liberal view of society has turned its back on humanity. The exhibition ‘Antibodies’ is a reaction to these profound changes. Most of all, it asks questions about the role of you and me in a future in which artificial intelligence and streamlined productivity has long since left the values of humanism in the dusk.

‘Antibodies’ is an exhibition combining artwork and installations made over a period of several years using advanced 3D-printing techniques, sculptures and videos. Divided into chapters and installations such as Contagious Unemployment, Poverty Dilation and Middle-Class Ruins,
the exhibition pieces together crucial elements of the artist’s work over a longer period. Contagious Unemployment, the ideological epicenter of the exhibition, dates from 2016 yet is more relevant today than ever. A dark, ominous environment houses multiple lamps shaped as viruses dangling from the ceiling illuminating the space. The low-hanging creations give us a feeling that a sinister threat is almost upon us. A closer look into the virus bodies shows us paper boxes filled with classic office appliances, much like the familiar picture of employees packing up their belongings after being fired. The title is close to the actual message Kline wants to push – a justified fear of widespread unemployment, traveling like a virus through society with fatal consequences. He touches upon a fear that most of us would rather suppress – the fact that we are all easily replaceable in the machinery of society.

The second central part of ‘Antibodies’ features a bright, sterile space containing shopping carts filled with various disposable and oversized office appliances items. Once again, the office space as institution forms a symbol for a middle-class working life in ruins. The piece is called Poverty Dilation and the shopping carts conjointly represent the poor and homeless as a consequence of an increasingly rationalised society. Moreover, it materialises our tendency to prefer disposable, mass-produced goods over sustainable alternatives. On the same theme, the artist takes it one step further by presenting 3D-printed wax dolls, depicting actual persons wrapped in garbage bags, petrified in fetal positions as human waste. Each specific installation is called after the actual people that Kline met during his travel through Baltimore. From a city already ravaged by rising unemployment, Kline presents the fate of Elizabeth, Moura and Mathew, each with their own story but with the common denominator of being made redundant. The strong emphasis on the actual humans and the intimidating set-up of the installation is like a punch in the stomach and reminds us about the importance of human touch in society. The industrial reproduction of technology does not only consume material resources.

Kline has described the development of society as a relentless push to squeeze more productivity out of workers – turning people into reliable, always-on office appliances and at the same time creating populations without either a historical memory or the critical skills to navigate in current political messages. Taking the financial crisis of 2008 as his starting point, Kline has in many installations and art projects such as Freedom and Evidence addressed how the political agendas of Washington and an increasingly biased media over the past years have been gradually alienating people from both the truth and the true consequences of major political decisions.

Kline’s singular way of using his artistic platform for dystopian, post-human forecasts is an excellent example of how art can play a key role in bringing attention to possible aftermaths and the long-term damage of today’s political débâcles in order to prevent them. The artwork
and installations that constitute ‘Antibodies’ are a clear statement and protest from the artist. If current societal trends are not carefully monitored and managed, they could potentially approach an apocalyptic magnitude. In a world on the brink of ruin or rebirth, Kline is however not telling a story about submission – the spirit of his work is above all a brutal call for political change and the necessary action to bring humanity back into the game. It is also a hopeful reminder that it is not yet too late to create a different future.

Words by Ted Hammarin

Picture captions:
Works by Josh Kline, with ; Creative Hands; Crying Games; Professionalism; Starting Over; and Poverty Dilation; Keep The Change (Texas Roadhouse Waiter’s Head with Cap); Energy Drip; Seven to Three; Aspirational Foreclosure (Matthew / Mortgage Loan Officer) (all Courtesy the artist and 47 Canal, New York); Unemployment; Contagious Unemployment (Talk Soon) (both Courtesy Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy); @joshklinejoshkline