Tai Smith

 
Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

This faculty member is currently not looking for graduate students or Postdoctoral Fellows. Please do not contact the faculty member with any such requests.

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Arts and Technologies
Economical Contexts

Research Interests

Modern and Contemporary Art and Design
media theory
Politics of Media and Mediation
Gender
Textiles

Relevant Degree Programs

 

Research Methodology

media theory
Political economy

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

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
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.

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New cuts, dark continents : Hannah Höch’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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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