Hubert Burda Media


New York-based artist Josh Kline explains his fears over 21st-century life

There’s a row of green juices lined up on the shelves. They come in clear plastic cups or bottles and, upon closer inspection, are just lumpy enough to appear properly wholesome. They’re the kind of drinks you could show off at the gym or in Pilates class. And, as with all brag-worthy health foods, the ingredients are prominently listed in a trendy, oversized font. One is made from “mixed greens, baby spinach, kale, Nyquil and dollars.” Another includes “credit card, American Apparel, kale chips, kombucha, microbrew, quinoa and agave.”

So you won’t be drinking these anytime soon. These gag-inducing blends are the creations of American artist Josh Kline, whose work satirises the lifestyle obsessions of 21st-century city dwellers. After his juices took the Internet by storm last year, he turned his attention to today’s digital surveillance state and created Freedom, a multimedia installation that was unveiled at the New Museum Triennial this spring.

Kline then had his first solo show in the UK, and is now one of seven artists participating in 1,000 Islands, a group exhibition on show at Simon Lee Gallery in Hong Kong until 21 December 2015. Kline has unveiled two new pieces at the show, Essence of Bitter Melon and Sleeping Under The Kitchen Table, which he says were inspired by “domestic labour in Hong Kong and the displacement of drudgery.” We sat down with him to talk about his cynicism towards the modern world.

Your juices reference contemporary culture and people’s obsession over their lifestyles and often reference pharmaceutical and recreational drugs. Can you tell us about the works you’ll be showing in 1,000 Islands at Simon Lee Gallery Hong Kong?

My works in 1,000 Islands are part of a series that involve refrigerated coolers containing IV-bags filled with liquids doped or tainted with various substances — in the past: pig’s blood doped with antidepressants, cyan ink jet ink doped with [sleeping pill] Ambien, etc.

The specifics of the Lance Armstrong Tour-de-France blood-doping scandal — which inspired these works — read like science fiction. Armstrong would take performance-enhancing drugs before the race, and then have his blood taken and stored in IV-bags. The effects of the drugs would then wear off in his body and he would pass the drug test before the race. From my understanding, a van would follow him up the racecourse carrying the IV-bags containing his doped blood, which he would then inject back into himself off camera giving him the boost he needed to win the race.

The earlier works I made were about how people use drugs to go beyond their humanity in order to actualise their aspirations or to temporarily become people they are not. Taking drugs to feel happy when you’re actually depressed, taking Adderall to feel motivated and focused when you’re sleepy and distracted. Taking drugs to “get things done.”

These new works for 1,000 Islands are about a different kind of performance enhancement – they’re about domestic labour in Hong Kong and the displacement of drudgery.

You also exhibited a multimedia installation at the New Museum Triennial this year that looks at how technology is affecting people and their lives. Can you talk about your concerns regarding people’s use of technology?

Freedom, my installation in the New Museum Triennial, was about the possibilities of political speech in the early 21st century. The public commons has been replaced with the privately-owned virtual spaces of social media, e-mail, and smart phone apps. Personal correspondence, intimate exchanges, and political speech are being archived and absorbed by businesses and fed to governments and law enforcement agencies. I wonder if real democracy is possible under these circumstances. In the US, it seems the answer is no.

Your work generally seems quite cynical of modern life. What keeps you hopeful?

Sichuan food?

What are you working on next?

A show about technological unemployment for my gallery in New York, 47 Canal. The next chapter after Freedom in a cycle of works about potential futures in the 21st century.