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Josh Kline: Living in the Ruined World

Josh Kline: Living in the Ruined World

More waters are “rushing in,” they say, although the sea appears deathly calm. We hear that “human aspirations, dreams, and plans” have sunk along with all the “temporary rented homes for temporary rented lives,” and “all the drowned drugstores.” These references, delivered as dreamy asides, echo Kline’s indictment of the American dream, venture consumerism, housing inequality, and big pharma in the “Climate Change” series. But here, the previous work’s bitterness feels abstract, at odds with the film’s placid drift. The real sadness of the film resides in the sense that — whatever happened, whoever is to blame, and whoever is left — all that matters is pressing on with the species-wide business of survival.

Kline’s film is drenched in dystopian, “Blade Runner”-esque sentiment. Indeed, its soundtrack, an entwining dirge of synthesizer and sax arranged by the beatmaker Galcher Lustwerk, pays tribute to the strains Vangelis composed for Ridley Scott’s film. Here, too, the more or less hellish world of the near future is mostly the backdrop for the existential questions of its human tenants. These dramas, of course, are quite short, even shortsighted, compared to the wide pageants of the planet itself.

As the divers pass around energy bars and bottles of what could be beer, the sun settling between the buildings and lying gold above the flooded avenues, the voice-over softens and grows indistinct, cross-chattering, as if overlapping scraps of the characters’ thoughts. One speaks of “human tears in the water,” a line that recalls the dying words of the android at the end of “Blade Runner”: “All these memories will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

Even as Kline makes science fiction, his form embraces nostalgia. “Adaptation” was shot on 16 millimeter color film — the projector clatters away in the gallery on a derrick-like stand — using scale models and other practical effects. The choice to use film, rather than the digital rendering and seamless HD video that have become increasingly affordable for contemporary artists, is more than a rejection of that trend. This is the way movies used to be made — and perhaps, he suggests, if the computers fail, or if the entertainment industry collapses, they’ll be made this way again. But the filmstrip, too, looping and looping for the show’s duration, will also degrade …

This is the seductiveness of Kline’s work on climate change: whether or not countries meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets, whether global warming can be held below the threshold, some degree of change is inevitable. Cities like Miami and New York will face — already face — rising waters and unprecedented storm surges. Yet Kline’s message in “Adaptation” isn’t one of doom, necessarily — nor of hope. We will simply keep living in the ruined world.

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