The ever-mounting anxieties of America’s shrinking middle class have been majestically condensed into a three-minute video and a series of sculptures in Josh Kline’s Unemployment. Currently on display at 47 Canal, the exhibition takes a dystopic view of America in 2031 that manages to feel both hyperbolic and eerily plausible.
Unemployment depicts an era where smart computing will have eliminated the once stalwart jobs of the middle class, in turn forcing aging, jobless individuals to “Airbnb their bodies out to strangers in order to make rent,” according to the press release. More than just a theoretical example, Kline has depicted this scenario literally, with a series of 3D-printed, life-sized renderings of human beings donned in professional attire, curled up into fetal positions, and sealed within plastic recycling bags. Almost like a cyclical return to times of industrial labor, your body is your most valuable asset in 2031, and your only chance of survival lies in recycling or renting out your own flesh.
Near these bodies are a series of shopping and granny carts, each filled to the brim with more disturbing relics of the future, also wrapped in plastic recycling bags. One contains a large quantity of plastic bottle and human hand hybrid objects. Another holds soda cans in shades of flesh tones. Bringing to mind the unemployed or homeless individuals of today who scavenge city streets for recyclable goods to exchange for meager deposits, the scene is both familiar and frightening.
In another room, office boxes filled with iconic middle class relics are encased in transparent, alien-like baubles hanging from the ceiling. Family portraits, sports team hats, and discount running shoes are locked away from the viewer inside the baubles, suggesting the unavailability and disappearance of once prolific cultural middle objects. The middle class is the endangered species of the future, with only preserved remnants to remember what once was.
In the last room of the exhibition, Universal Early Retirement loops endlessly, a short video that is reminiscent of cliché suburban commercials for bad private colleges that promise to “help you better yourself” and plead for you to “imagine the possibilities.” In the piece, eclectic individuals ranging across the demographic spectrum walk dramatically alongside the camera, uttering hopeful ramblings like “Imagine a nation where no one has to work a double shift just to have enough money to feed their family.” Unlike the commercials it seemingly emulates, Kline’s rendition doesn’t advertise any private institutions. Instead, the piece ‘advertises’ universal basic income, equally absurd and depressing when one considers how this is both a basic human necessity and something the U.S. government will likely never guarantee.