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Watch: Kaitlyn Jo Smith Turns America’s Labor Force Into a Commodified Nightmare cover

Watch: Kaitlyn Jo Smith Turns America’s Labor Force Into a Commodified Nightmare

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this post ran in 2022. We’re publishing this update in honor of our August 2023 exhibition, Art and Tech, which includes work from Kaitlyn Jo Smith.

Americans were once wide-eyed idealists who dreamed about jetpack adventures, picnicking on the moon, and a shining (automated) city on a hill. Our robot friends would open doors, whip up tasty desserts, and deliver us from the endless drudgery of backbreaking manual labor. Interdisciplinary artist Kaitlyn Jo Smith—who grew up in rural Ohio’s Rust Belt—knows how far out of reach that future has become for most American workers.

‘Lights Out’ (excerpt)

Kaitlyn, who now lives and works in Tucson, Arizona, directs our attention to modern labor practices in America with her recent video “Lights Out,” a term used to describe fully automated factories with little or no human presence. These sites operate “without heating, air conditioning, lunch breaks, or unions,” Kaitlyn tells NOT REAL ART. Similarly, the portraits of the workers appearing in “Lights Out,” aren’t real people; they’re deep fakes, fabricated by a neural network. “This neural network was trained using a dataset of 50,000 pictures of factory workers that I sourced through Facebook,” says Kaitlyn, explaining how her series of algorithms recognize underlying relationships through deep learning, a type of artificial intelligence that mimics the operating patterns of the human brain.

She continues: “As the neural network is fed more portraits to analyze, its deep fakes become more believable.” Read: the network gets smarter over time. This particular network has created a workforce of 60,0000 people—one worker for each American factory shuttered since the year 2000. Organized into columns, the metallic clink of each portrait as it moves across the screen mimics the movement of a conveyor belt, suggesting a future full of consumable products—of which humans are just one of many.

Scroll through to see more work from Kaitlyn Jo Smith, then head over to NOT REAL ART’s August 2023 exhibition, Art and Tech, to see her submission, “Lights Out.”

The metallic clink of each portrait … mimics the movement of a conveyor belt, suggesting a future full of consumable products—of which humans are just one of many.

Kaitlyn Jo Smith directs our attention to modern labor practices in America with her recent video “Lights Out,” a term used to describe fully automated factories with little or no human presence.
‘Lights Out’ (video still)
Kaitlyn Jo Smith directs our attention to modern labor practices in America with her recent video “Lights Out,” a term used to describe fully automated factories with little or no human presence.
‘Lights Out’ (video still)
Kaitlyn Jo Smith directs our attention to modern labor practices in America with her recent video “Lights Out,” a term used to describe fully automated factories with little or no human presence.
‘Lights Out’ (installation view); photo credit: Kaitlyn Jo Smith
Kaitlyn Jo Smith

Kaitlyn Jo Smith: Website | Instagram

All photos published with permission of the artist.

Want to be featured in Lightbox? Email editor@notrealart.com with a short introduction and a link to your online portfolio or three images of your work.

Morgan  Laurens 

Morgan Laurens (she/her/hers) is NOT REAL ART’s editor in chief. Morgan is an arts writer from the Midwest who enjoys saying “excuse me” when no actual pardon is needed. She specializes in grant writing and narrative-based storytelling for mission-driven artists and arts organizations. With a background in printmaking, pop culture, and classic literature, Morgan believes a girl’s best friend is the pile of books on her bedside table.

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