We had the good fortune of connecting with Kaitlyn Jo Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kaitlyn, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I grew up in rural Ohio, halfway between Toledo and Columbus. A majority of my family were/are factory workers and I learned from a young age to link self-worth to ones ability/willingness to work. This outlook has impacted my artistic practice in obvious ways that can be seen in Lights Out (a laborious video made from meticulously arranging 60,000 deep fakes into a pseudo conveyer belt). It also impacts my work more subtlety in process based projects that are rooted in repetition. In my first year of graduate school at The University of Arizona I made the connection that art (at least the way that I approach it) is blue collar work, and that I (not so unlike my family) am a blue collar worker. Everything I make connects back to the place I am from and the people who raised me. It is my goal to give the working class a voice within the gallery setting by bring the people, stories and struggles of rural Americans into an urban setting.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Even though I am currently living, working and teaching in Tucson, Arizona, my inspiration is continuously pulled from the Rust Belt and the hardworking, fun-loving people who inhabit it. I am an interdisciplinary artist focused on the present and future trajectories of America’s working class. It is my goal to make impersonal concepts, such as unemployment and the economy, real and relatable to my viewers. It is also important to me that my work comes from a place of compassion and understanding and not from the prospective of an outsider looking in. A lot of beautiful photographs are made by people who are just passing through. To me, these images seem exploitative. I never want my work to read that way. My art is made alongside those I love to tell the stories of the places (both physical and mental) that they inhabit. My thesis work, American Standard, is the culmination of three years of intensive research. Manufacturing jobs began rapidly declining in the 1970’s with the collapse of the steel industry across Rust Belt states. Since then, factory workers have seen a steady decline in employment opportunities. More recently, 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs have vanished since 2000; 4 million of these have disappeared as a direct result of automation. One of these jobs belonged to my father; this work is dedicated to him. American Standard is both an archeological and anthropological examination of the present that asks us to consider the implications of automation on society, more specifically, America’s working class. I was raised by skilled laborers in a Rust Belt town in rural Ohio. When I was 13 years old, the facade of the American Dream crumbled before my eyes when the housing market crashed and nearly every adult I knew was instantly out of work. The Great Recession (2007-09) shuttered factories, turning a once bustling industrial region into a post-industrial wasteland. These modern-day American ruins have inspired me to share my family’s story. Over the past two years, my father and I have revisited the American Standard plant where he, and many of his brothers, once worked. In this landscape, we become the archaeologists of our collective histories through the excavation and preservation of once functional pottery (toilets). American Standard replaces workers with machines to question the ethics surrounding the current state of labor practices in this country. By utilizing processes that have rendered the shift-worker nearly obsolete, including 3D scanning, 3D printing and machine learning, attention is drawn to the individuals that these processes replace. American Standard is a contemporary counter-monument honoring the working class through its use of deep fakes and non-functional utilitarian objects. It is through the installation’s ceaseless repetition that American Standard memorializes the digital age of mechanical reproduction.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Whenever someone comes to stay in Tucson I always take them to eat Welcome Diner, Kon Tiki and La Cocina (not all in one day). A drive up Mt Lemmon and through Gates pass are also a must. All of that aside, my two favorite places to take visitors are the Desert Museum and Tanque Verde Swap Meet.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would absolutely not have made it this far into my artistic career without the never ending love and support from my parents. I also owe so much to my graduate committee (Martina Shenal, Sama Alshaibi, David Taylor, Joe Farbrook, Cerese Vaden) for pushing me farther both conceptually and technically then I ever thought possible. And of course to my partner Neil for editing every single artist statement and cover letter I have ever written.