2020 MFA Alumni Thesis Exhibition

Kaitlyn Jo Smith

American Standard

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.