Tai Smith

Associate Professor

Research Interests

Arts and Technologies
Economical Contexts
media theory
Modern and Contemporary Art and Design
Politics of Media and Mediation

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Research Options

I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.

Research Methodology

media theory
Political economy


Master's students
Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows
I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.

Complete these steps before you reach out to a faculty member!

Check requirements
  • Familiarize yourself with program requirements. You want to learn as much as possible from the information available to you before you reach out to a faculty member. Be sure to visit the graduate degree program listing and program-specific websites.
  • Check whether the program requires you to seek commitment from a supervisor prior to submitting an application. For some programs this is an essential step while others match successful applicants with faculty members within the first year of study. This is either indicated in the program profile under "Admission Information & Requirements" - "Prepare Application" - "Supervision" or on the program website.
Focus your search
  • Identify specific faculty members who are conducting research in your specific area of interest.
  • Establish that your research interests align with the faculty member’s research interests.
    • Read up on the faculty members in the program and the research being conducted in the department.
    • Familiarize yourself with their work, read their recent publications and past theses/dissertations that they supervised. Be certain that their research is indeed what you are hoping to study.
Make a good impression
  • Compose an error-free and grammatically correct email addressed to your specifically targeted faculty member, and remember to use their correct titles.
    • Do not send non-specific, mass emails to everyone in the department hoping for a match.
    • Address the faculty members by name. Your contact should be genuine rather than generic.
  • Include a brief outline of your academic background, why you are interested in working with the faculty member, and what experience you could bring to the department. The supervision enquiry form guides you with targeted questions. Ensure to craft compelling answers to these questions.
  • Highlight your achievements and why you are a top student. Faculty members receive dozens of requests from prospective students and you may have less than 30 seconds to pique someone’s interest.
  • Demonstrate that you are familiar with their research:
    • Convey the specific ways you are a good fit for the program.
    • Convey the specific ways the program/lab/faculty member is a good fit for the research you are interested in/already conducting.
  • Be enthusiastic, but don’t overdo it.
Attend an information session

G+PS regularly provides virtual sessions that focus on admission requirements and procedures and tips how to improve your application.



These videos contain some general advice from faculty across UBC on finding and reaching out to a potential thesis supervisor.

Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


She believed in me before I believed in myself.

Alice Wang (2018)


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Disappearing threads: art between text and textile in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile after 1955 (2021)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

View record

The conceptual, the romantic, and the nonhuman: the SUM group and the emergence of contemporary art in Iceland, 1965-1978 (2019)

This dissertation considers the emergence of contemporary art practices in Iceland through the activities of the artist collective SÚM between 1965 and 1978. The founding of SÚM in 1965 brought forth, for the first time, a generation of Icelandic artists whose practices closely correspond to that of experimental artists globally, especially those aligned with Fluxus and conceptual art. As I highlight, this relied on Iceland’s belated modernization and changes to the country’s geopolitical status in the twentieth century, as well as on global efforts to decentralize the artworld. And yet, SÚM’s challenge to the definition of the art object is also uniquely configured through the artists’ complicated relationship to the local tradition of landscape painting and the concomitant romantic nationalist discourse which had shaped Icelandic self-identity, cultural practices and discourses since the turn of the twentieth century. In particular, SÚM’s practice developed through a critical engagement with the idealized place of nature in Icelandic national identity—a critique which sought to complicate the boundary between nature and culture. SÚM artists’ efforts to subvert Icelandic nationalist ideology and artistic tradition are complicated, however, by their alliance with the postwar political resistance movement against the growing economic and cultural influence of the United States in Iceland as well as its neocolonial practices globally. This led the artists to situate their work in relation to a specific, yet ill-defined, local Icelandic way and sense of being. Often characterized in terms of a “poetic” or “romantic” attitude, this typically focuses on the centrality of the natural in the work of prominent members of SÚM, their engagement with “premodern” Icelandic cultural traditions, folk belief and art, and their suggestions for an intuitive or emotional basis for their practice. Highlighting the dialectical tension between the globalizing and localizing impulses of SÚM, I argue that to understand the specificity of Icelandic contemporary art, one must consider the degree to which its emergence, through SÚM, was produced within the context of the country’s changing geopolitical position and its longer history as a peripheral territory within the Danish colonial empire.

View record

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

The repatriation of cultural belongings: transformations and restrictions reconsidered through DRIPA legislation (2022)

Comments about the repatriation of Indigenous cultural belongings and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples are often heard in Canadian news and in statements and speeches from politicians at the level of municipal governments up to the Prime Minister’s Office. The repatriation of the Potlatch Collection to the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw is one of the largest and most significant returns in Canadian history. How does the historic experience of repatriation and the current governmental focus on reconciliation inform the future practice of repatriation of Indigenous cultural belongings in B.C.? This thesis will address the multiple meanings of the Potlatch Collection, transformed through historic interventions, and the limitations of decolonization as a theoretical framework for repatriation and reconciliation from an art historical and legal perspective. The most significant area of research is the data collected from individuals who generously shared their knowledge. These are people closely connected to the Potlatch Collection, currently residing at U’mista Cultural Centre, or connected with other Indigenous museums or cultural centres. This thesis aims to promote the further decolonization of repatriation practice and institutionally imposed restrictions on display and preservation of Indigenous cultural belongings in light of the recent legislation in British Columbia (B.C.), the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, R.S.B.C. 2019 (DRIPA) which adopts the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of which Article 11 relates to Indigenous Peoples’ rights to their visual art and cultural property. Current legislation (DRIPA) has far reaching implications not just for art history practice but for Indigenous Peoples’ rights to their cultural belongings.The Indigenous museum or cultural centre is a unique space that contributes to the decolonization not only of their cultural displays but of those displays of cultural belongings found in mainstream museums. There is a nexus of law and art history where DRIPA legislation and the new meaning and role of the cultural belongings of the Potlatch Collection returned to the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw can inform decolonization practices.

View record

Intermedia wearables: the politics of social and spatial transformation in Evelyn Roth's textile and performance art, 1965-1975 (2021)

This thesis is the first critical engagement with the status of textile media and creative techniques in Vancouver’s artistic environment during the 1960s and 1970s. Specifically, I examine the ways that artist Evelyn Roth developed the categories of wearable art and moving sculpture within this creative milieu. Roth intertwined textile-based material practices, dance and performance as a member of the arts organization Intermedia and dancer in the performance group TheCo. While textile media and techniques have been historically relegated to the margins of art history, systematically devalued as “craft” and excluded from dominant discourse for their associations with femininity, domesticity, and gendered labor, Roth and collaborating artists destabilized the foundation of this narrative as they explored textile-based practices in Vancouver’s Intermedia scene.Motivated by utopic social politics and the effects of media in everyday life, the artists working within Intermedia challenged hierarchies of materials and notions of individual artistic authorship, centering collaboration, experimentation, and interdisciplinary approaches to new and “everyday” media forms in their artistic endeavors. Elaborating her interdisciplinary practice within this space of alternative artistic activity, Roth asserted the cultural significations of media forms and creative strategies traditionally excluded from arts spaces. How does her practice generate thought around the potential of textile media to counter oppressive social structures and create change in the experience of everyday life?Intertwining feminist and formalist methodologies, I approach this study with a lens towards the relationship of material and ideological forms in the constitution of identity, space, and social relations. Bridging material practices and social dynamics through her experiments with wearable art, moving sculpture, and community participation, Roth illuminates the potential to transform social conventions through alternative creative strategies. I argue that Roth’s use of accessible materials, performance, and strategies of community engagement situate textile media within a politics of transformation, capable of generating change in normative articulations of space and giving way to new social possibilities. I address how she orients the material and conceptual malleability of textiles towards the articulation of alternative social values, propelling thought around the potential to act outside of the constraints of dominant social order.

View record

Making light: criticality and carousel projection in the work of Marcel Broodthaers and Allan Sekula (2021)

The invention of the Carousel slide projector made it possible for artists to create looping slide sequences for continuous display in contemporary art galleries. Slide projection already had a strong association with institutional and educational use, however, and a growing association with corporate marketing. How could artists use slide projection without having their work coloured by the medium’s existing connotations?This thesis discusses two early slide sequences that demonstrate a proactive approach to this problem. Marcel Broodthaers’ Bateau Tableau (1973) critiques art history’s role as institutional gatekeeper and interpreter. In an absurd recreation of an art historical slide lecture, a single painting is repeatedly re-photographed until it is utterly defamiliarized, reduced to its basic materiality, refusing any art historical “reading” of the painting. Allan Sekula’s Untitled Slide Sequence (1972) recreates the set-up of the film Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory, but replaces the Lumière factory with an aerospace plant where workers manufacture fighter-bombers, transforming the industrial optimism of the original film into a condemnation of the military-industrial complex.These works show how artists turned the slide projector’s institutional and corporate connotations to their own ends. They also show that the projection apparatus itself can help to support this kind of critical project. The intermittent interruption caused by the projector’s automatic advance, in particular, draws attention to the mediating presence of the apparatus in a way that allows artists to comment on the technology itself, and to critique the way that the device’s connotations influence viewers’ perception of the images that it reproduces. A discursive assessment of slide projection’s historical relationship to other technological media, especially film projection and digital slide software like PowerPoint, shows that analogue slide projection is particularly well suited as a platform for this type of critical artistic commentary. The early history of slide projection is thus of ongoing relevance: as “new media” become increasingly important in contemporary art, artists continue to grapple with the challenge of using technologies with pre-existing institutional or commercial associations—making it important to understand the strategies that artists have used to navigate this challenge in the past.

View record

The Magazine as surrealist object: VVV and the reanimation of a movement in New York during World War II (2019)

This thesis examines VVV, a surrealist review, commonly known as a “little magazine,” published in New York during World War II from 1942-44. Although VVV’s history charts connections among the mostly French and American artists, architects, collectors, and poets who produced it— including André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Roberto Matta, and Roger Caillois—my intent is to focus on the little magazine as an object that was formed, designed, and exchanged within the surrealist community at a time when the movement had dispersed across the Atlantic and was dying out. Just as the surrealists sought to consolidate their identity in exile, the political reality pulled them apart, threatening the foundation of their self-definition in sites where they had long sought to consolidate it: the surrealist little magazine, and the surrealist object. In this context, avant-garde publications were repeatedly discussed as if they were entities whose existence hovered between life and death, echoing the artists and poets’ precarious situation. If read in this way—as animate entities within the communities that produced them—the little magazine in general, and VVV in particular, can be seen as active participants within a disintegrating avant-garde network during the war.Framing the magazine as a surrealist object, I argue that the political tensions of an avant-garde community in exile during World War II are best read within the formal aspects of the magazine, and in the details of its production. Cover imagery, layout, choice and juxtaposition of content, as well as modes of financing, circulation and distribution the magazine reveal how the movement evolved from its radical pre-war political stance to one focused on the production of a media commodity funded and distributed by an art gallery.Ultimately the history of VVV offers a unique window into the current field of little magazine scholarship, by providing a transition from the predominantly literary scholarship on avant-garde magazines from the 19th through the early 20th centuries to the more recent interest in artist-run publications from the 1960s onwards. VVV allows an opening into this historical gap.

View record

Creating with blockchain technology: the "provably rare" possibilities of crypto art (2018)

My thesis examines crypto art from several different vantage points. This is a budding artistic phenomenon which, can be broadly defined as art that takes place on the blockchain (also called a distributed digital ledger). Investigating this movement can aid in illuminating alternative forms of contemporary artistic practice, the direction of the blockchain, and a better understanding of cryptocurrency.Crypto art facilitates an efficient form of economic value creation for both artists and collectors, enabled by the blockchain’s capacities around tracing provenance and authenticity as well as implementing mechanisms to ensure artists receive compensation at the point of sale and resale. These outcomes would not have been possible in a pre-blockchain world. However, many of the approaches and philosophies are shared between the makers and functions of crypto art and conceptual art. Several aspects of blockchain technology are “new,” but the problems and questions that crypto art addresses, including its association with larger financial forces, have tremendous art historical precedent. Much of the modern art system is even built upon these connections, and paralleling this movement to conceptual art can help expose these affiliations. Looking at blockchain through the legacy of conceptual art also demonstrates the need for this technology and its capabilities, most notably, the built-in payment structure for artists. With this in mind, the central questions in my thesis are: how has crypto art challenged the relationship to authorship, ownership, dematerialization and distribution that were fundamental to conceptual art? And what relevance does this have for blockchain technology today? In attempting to address these questions, this paper will argue that crypto art reveals and critiques the framework of the art market. I will focus on Rare Pepes (2016-present) for my primary case study but will also survey other crypto art works to support my argument.The majority of my research engages directly with crypto art. For supplementary material, I have relied upon the work of Jason Bailey and Hito Steyerl as well as Oliver Roeder. I will also employ the writings of Lucy Lippard, Benjamin Buchloh and Joseph Kosuth to think through the theoretical side of conceptual art.

View record

New cuts, dark continents: Hannah Hoch's From an Ethnographic Museum (2018)

Between the years 1924-1934, Berlin dada artist Hannah Höch (1889-1978) created the collage series From an Ethnographic Museum. The work comprises twenty sheets with cut-out images of modern women’s bodies alongside African and Oceanic tribal objects. The result is a collection of small, ambiguous totemic-like figures. Through the series, Höch captures the landscape of the Weimar Republic, particularly the inseparability of primitivism and ethnography from the moment’s psychoanalytic discourse. This thesis argues in part that From an Ethnographic Museum grapples with the ways in which the discipline of psychoanalysis contributed to constructs of gender and race as monolithic Other. By analyzing several works from Höch’s series in detail, comparing them to various other dada and surrealist works, as well as exploring the connections between psychoanalysis, dada, gender, race, and ethnography in Berlin at the edge of the Second World War, I examine how From an Ethnographic Museum navigates its way through multiple discourses in new and jarring ways via the gesture of the “cut.” This thesis further traces the ways in which psychoanalysis gained a wide audience in Berlin. A close reading of From an Ethnographic Museum sheds light on the role of psychoanalytic discourse and ethnography at this tense historical moment, and how gender and race were perceived during the Weimar Republic. Rather than treating Höch’s aesthetic choices in her collages as distinct operations, the series, through the gestures of the cut, shows that political arrangements are not separate in their discourses from aesthetic ones.

View record

Partial vision: remediations of the Algerian veil in film and scholarship after Fanon (2017)

This thesis takes up the Algerian haik (veil), and more specifically how the process of veiling and unveiling first described by the Martinican-born psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, have been depicted in film. Scholars repeatedly associate Fanon’s famous essay “Algeria Unveiled” (1959)—which considers the role of the veiled Algerian woman in the revolutionary struggle—to Gillo Pontecorvo’s equally prominent neo-realist film The Battle of Algiers (1966), where the veil plays a prominent role in allowing the Algerian woman to carry bombs undetected. Similarly, an allusion to the Algerian woman and the veil appears in the documentary Images of the World and the Inscription of War (1989), directed by avant-garde filmmaker Harun Farocki, where the director shows photographs of women unveiled during the war by French soldiers. Previous scholars have compared the women in this film to those in The Battle of Algiers, and by extension, those described by Fanon in his essay. Rather than reading the veil through lenses of “the gaze” or Orientalism, the two dominant discourses applied to these films, the interpretation I provide synthesizes two concepts from media theory, specifically theories of cultural techniques and remediation. I argue that the dynamic operation of veiling and unveiling, a cultural technique that produces gendered and colonial difference, is what lends the veil to remediation, as Fanon’s argument and the process of veiling and unveiling are visualized in cinema. Viewing these films as examples of the veil through layers of remediation—from Fanon’s critical essay to Pontecorvo’s dramatic film to photographs to Farocki’s experimental documentary—the cultural technique of veiling disrupts the binaries—such as gender—it seems to impose. The very process of veiling and unveiling itself complicates a stable reading of both the veil and the Algerian woman.

View record

West Coast Bauhaus: a case study of the Oberlander Residence II (2017)

This thesis will consider the joining of West Coast Modernism and Bauhaus-inspired architecturalelements in the design of architect Peter Oberlander and landscape architect Cornelia HahnOberlander’s second residence in Vancouver, the Ravine House, located on the University ofBritish Columbia Endowments Lands. It will posit that this style hybridization results from theOberlanders’ particular situation as forced exiles from Central Europe as well as voluntaryimmigrants to Vancouver. This analysis will interrogate the dichotomy between exile andimmigrant architecture that is presented in the literature of West Coast architectureThe methodology will consist of an analysis of the architecture produced by the German-speakingimmigrant and exile communities in Los Angeles from the 1920s to the 1950s, aprecursor of the West Coast modernism in Vancouver. It will consider the seminal writings ofReyner Banham and Erhard Bahr in Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies and Weimaron the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism, with particularattention on their approaches for reading the experiences of exile and immigration in thearchitectural features of buildings. This approach will be applied to a case study of the RavineHouse through a biographical sketch of the Oberlander’s migration as well as a formal analysis ofWest Coast Modernism and the Indigenous architectures it drew upon as well as the Bauhausfeatures of the residence.

View record

Modern Acheiropoieta: The Veil of Veronica in the Age of the Jacquard Loom (2016)

The removal of the human hand from the creation of images was a concomitant feature of industrial modernity. In the first years of the nineteenth century, textile production entered this new phase with the invention of the Jacquard loom. The proliferation of the Jacquard technique was virtually synonymous with technological innovation and the acceleration of industrial capitalism; and yet, this quintessentially modern development was echoed—somewhat paradoxically—by the multiplication of a consummately premodern textile image, also generated without a craftsperson’s labor. The Veil of Veronica, a Christian relic bearing a miraculous image of Christ’s face, became a focus of popular devotion in France through the revival of the medieval cult of the Holy Face. The Veronica relic is one of the Christian acheiropoieta, meaning “not made by human hand.” Engravings depicting the relic were printed on cloth and circulated throughout France, where they were believed to strengthen the Catholic Church, particularly in its confrontations with communism.The disavowal of human mediation therefore took two very different, though similarly mobilizing, forms in the 1800s. The foundational premise of this thesis is that there are registers of similarity, interaction, and negation between the premodern miraculous and modern mechanical paradigms. These operative and tectonic connections are the ground against which the actual historical interactions between the religious and industrial spheres in nineteenth-century France must be understood. My objective is to examine how the reemergence of the cult of the Veil of Veronica and its material culture operated within this particular historical moment to mediate the relations with communism and capitalism, and ultimately to reinforce the power of the Catholic Church. While the Church and industrial capitalism similarly negated human handiwork to engender and normalize their power, communism challenged the strategies of abstraction and mystification inherent in both systems. What is ultimately at stake in this analysis is a more nuanced understanding of the critical issues of the nineteenth century: the interplay between materiality and abstraction, mediation and immediacy, and copies and models—problems that vexed the economic, social, political, and artistic spheres of industrial modernity.

View record

Ever present, never presented: Suzanne Lacy, feminism, and quilting (2014)

Seated at tables of four, over four hundred women aged 55-95 years old unfold tablecloths of yellow, red, and black. With their choreographed and synchronized gesturing hands, they mimic traditional Euro-American quilt patterns. This performance, titled The Crystal Quilt, was produced by Los Angeles-based artist Suzanne Lacy in 1987 as the culminating work to the two-year long, statewide initiative Whisper Minnesota (1985-1987). There is a continued resonance of the quilt in Lacy’s oeuvre, as The Crystal Quilt was the third project to reference quilts and quilt making. The first project, Evalina and I: Crimes, Quilts, Art (1975-78), and a smaller commemorative project (1980), employed tactile quilting projects instead of the conceptual quilt arrangement that Lacy would incorporate in 1987. The formal and historical attributes of this textile practice have been largely ignored in contemporary scholarship on the artist, thus raising the question of how this very specific medium encouraged her artistic and activist agenda. The primary focus of this thesis is an exploration of how Lacy mediates these two approaches, one of feminism and the other inspired by conceptual artist Allan Kaprow, through the medium of the quilt. Neither Lacy’s quilt works nor the use of craft during the second wave feminist movement has been sufficiently analyzed within craft scholarship. The thesis thus centers on the historical labor of quilting, its pedagogical and political aspects, the cross generational connection of feminism since 1987, and finally, the impact it currently has on quilt scholarship.

View record

Current Students & Alumni

This is a small sample of students and/or alumni that have been supervised by this researcher. It is not meant as a comprehensive list.

If this is your researcher profile you can log in to the Faculty & Staff portal to update your details and provide recruitment preferences.


Sign up for an information session to connect with students, advisors and faculty from across UBC and gain application advice and insight.