An artist who lives and works in New York, Josh Kline is concerned with, as he puts it, “technology changing what it means to be human.” He does not seem sanguine about the prospect. “Freedom,” a room-sized installation commissioned by New York’s New Museum for Surround Audience, its 2015 triennial, is dominated by four life-sized mannequins of cops in SWAT gear—cops with Teletubby faces and digital screens embedded in their midsections. These “tummy TVs,” inspired by the BBC’s whimsical late-’90s children’s TV series, play a video Kline calls “Privacy,” in which off-duty and retired police officers, their features disguised by face-substitution software, read social-media feeds that deal with police violence.
Playing on a screen behind them is another Kline video, “Hope and Change,” in which an actor disguised by the same software to look like President Obama delivers an imagined inaugural address—one that recalls the stirring oratory of his 2008 campaign rather than the tepid monologue he actually delivered on being sworn in. “I wanted to imagine Obama as the transformational political figure that America’s youth voted for in 2008—an FDR or Martin Luther King Jr. for the twenty-first century,” Kline said in an interview that appeared in the triennial catalogue. The Teletubby riot squad, he added, shows people’s “lives, feelings, and beliefs being digested in the belly of the information police.”