Hope and Change



Josh Kline’s provocative installation, Hope and Change, 2015, features a suspended animation with a white light-box that illuminated the edges of a flat screen TV. Kline used “facial substitution software” to reconstruct the actor’s face to look like former president Barak Obama.(1) Such fabrications are related to deepfake techniques that leverage machine learning to created convincing likenesses, often of celebrities. The video is of the president’s 2009 “inaugural speech” but has its own thought-provoking variations on the speech, “written by the artist and one of the speechwriters” for Obama. (2) The video was was shown in Washington DC as part of the Suspended Animation exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in at the tail-end of Obama’s presidency in 2016. (3)

Audience video of Hope and Change and Freedom at Portland Art Museum

Kline later went on to present this Hope and Change as part of an installation including a related project, Freedom, as part of the New Museum’s third triennial, “Surround Audience” in New York, where it was referred to as “the runaway hit of the show,” by New Yorker critic Andrea K. Scott (3.5). The combination has travelled widely, including Modern Art Oxford in England.(4) The two works reinforce each other when combined as an installation, both suggesting a “dystopian future” in which people are stripped of their humanity under constant surveillance and technology. (5) The installation includes electrical cell phone towers with credit cards attached to them to represent the debt in America associated with technology that keeps us under surveillance. (6) The suspended animation of the faux Barack Obama inaugural address played in the background of four Teletubbies dressed up like a SWAT team.(7) They are standing spread out in the room and the Teletubbies are meant to be a commentary on “Occupy Wall street Protest Camp in 2011.”(8) On their stomachs they have videos of “former police officers” reading off scripts by “political activists” speaking about “social media.”(9)

Freedom, installed at the New Museum, New York, 2015

As an artist, Kline focuses on the way that we are connected with technology. (10) When the internet was developed it created “two realities,” our world and the digital world. (11) Kline’s work has a eerie and disconnected robotic feel that taps into the difference between these two realities, creating an uncanny dissonance between them. As such it, might be considered “Post-internet art” as theorized by Artie Vierkant and can be seen as a “social object” that is used to provoke active thinking about the things that we already see everyday.(12)

Artists like Kline are making us as an audience question what we perceive to be as real. We see the simulation of Obama and associate that with the real Obama. We know it is just an animation but the duality it creates make us aware of this digital world. Obama’s animation acts as an avatar of the real Obama, which is similar to the way we use social media. The Teletubbies also act as sculptures of icons that we once saw on television as children, giving the audience a nostalgic feeling that further allows them to connect with what they are seeing. The choice of making them into a SWAT team is a commentary on the way police are meant to look friendly but are really just being controlled by a greater force. Their faces look oddly pleasant but very eerie due to the lifeless nature of the sculpture that only speak to us through the screens on their stomachs. We create digital versions of ourselves that people believe our real. Most of the population communicate to people through screens and this is a commentary on our own society. We are the police but we are also the citizens that are being watched by the police. The avatars we have on our screens are just digital copies of us. This further enforces the idea that “nothing is a fixed state: i.e., everything is anything else.” (13) Kline is an artist that is provoking the way we think about the internet and the digital world. Overall, he wants us to think about civil rights, privacy, and surveillance in the “21st century.” (14)

1) https://www.modernartoxford.org.uk/event/josh-kline-freedom/
3.5) https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/30/next-steps
5) Ibid.
11)Vierkant, Artie, “The Image Object Post-Internet

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