Congratulations to Alumna Kaitlyn Jo Smith (MFA, Photography, Video and Imaging, ’20) for winning the 2021 College Arts Association Services to Artists Committee Award in Graduate Film/Video, Animations, & New Genres! The showcase was juried, including guest juror Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi (Steven and Lisa Tananbaum Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art).
Smith’s winning video, “Lights Out,” was part of the 16 graduate videos included in the national juried showcase. She was not the only School of Art artist chosen for this showcase. Her Photography, Video and Imaging peers Anna Brody and Bella Maria Varela are also a part of the showcase for their videos “Never Let Me Down” and “Triathlon,” respectively.
Kaitlyn Jo Smith
In Lights Out, I utilize machine learning to render visible the intangible state of America’s labor force. The term lights out manufacturing refers to a fully automated factory that requires no human presence on-site, operating without heating, air conditioning, lunch breaks or unions. Similarly, the portraits in Lights Out are not real people, rather, they are deep fakes created by artificial intelligence utilizing a neural network. This neural network was trained using a dataset of 50,000 pictures of factory workers that I sourced through Facebook. I empower the machine to visualize those it has replaced by employing these found identities to teach the algorithm to see, interpret and render out its own assembly of laborers. As the neural network is fed more portraits to analyze, its deep fakes become more believable, resulting in a new labor force of 60,000 – one worker for each factory shuttered since 2000. The AI-generated faces have been meticulously organized into columns that slowly shift along the gallery wall. The monotonous, machine-like rhythm created by this horizontal assembly line mimics that of a conveyor belt, symbolically placing the portraits in dialog with capitalist commodities.
Never Let Me Down
Never Let Me Down is one of a suite of videos (titled This Is The Only Thing We’ve Got) that address love relationships and the internalized values that mediate them. As a suite, these videos use time and performative actions to question the commitment, endurance, risk, and trust layered between the familial, platonic, and romantic loves that fill our lives. As an individual piece, Never Let Me Down is an embodied exploration of dependency, sacrifice, vulnerability, and platonic intimacy. It deals explicitly with the labor involved in communicating through mutual cooperation and negotiating compromise, and engages repetition in its capacity to create both comfort and tedium. I think of the actions in this and all my videos as muscle memory exercises that help me, as well as a viewer, to stay flexible and ready to learn what we haven’t yet grasped (or weren’t ever taught), and unlearn what we haven’t been able–or haven’t even tried–to let go of.
Bella Maria Varela
Inspired by my family’s competitive sporting spirit, Triathlon tracks the rhythms and terrains of American immigration and confronts the absurd constructs of US patriotism and exceptionalism. Triathlon is also a personal response to contemporary anti-immigrant sentiments; it is made in honor of child immigrants, resilient dreamers, and the ones getting swept away, around, and through the mess.