Smooooooooooooooth Operator


Brooklyn-based learner, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, explores the poetics and politics of machine learning. Having grown up in East Palo Alto, CA, a region that later came to be known as “Silicon Valley”, Rasheed had early access to emerging technologies including adolescent experience with computer coding. This, alongside her syncretic upbringing, a Muslim with formerly Protestant parents who sent her to a Catholic high school, Rasheed was exposed to parallel worlds of religion and computation, both modes of sense-making that relied on prophecy, formula, and close reading. 

Some twenty years later, Rasheed has slowly returned to questions of computation, the role of the reader, and ritual in Smooooooooooooooth Operator which considers the menace of smoothness. We know what a smooth thing is; we’ve run our hand over a surface without noticeable projections or interruptions. Smoothing as a practice shows up in music via quantization and again in image processing via filters. Both are procedures of standardization and forced patterning by disregarding dirty data (or noise) in the service of fulfilling the audience’s expectations. Smooth viewing is easy viewing because the brain doesn’t have to second guess what it is looking at–it’s easily assimilable. Smooth images, smooth text make smooth, speed readers.

Smooooooooooooooth Operator examines how image-based GANs and autoregressive language models like GPT invite us (by the risk of doing otherwise), to develop new modes of reading that are attuned against the smooth and new ways of making that introduce noise, fringe, and as Prem Krishnamurthy writes, “bumpiness.” In P!DF, V.6.0.0 (2020), Krishnamurthy offers:

"A little bumpiness—the productive friction that slows things down and forces a moment of reflection— [...] Within a world increasingly oriented towards smoothed out experiences, [bumpiness] argues for the political necessity of things that produce friction: objects and ideas that are created with care, yet remain uncertain."

Rasheed’s installation includes a series of diagrammatic and typographic paintings on various substrates as well as directly on the wall in addition to a video work. Collectively, these works explore what Krishnamurthy calls “a pleasure within the irregular, in what’s not already expected and familiar” and what Rasheed considers “an ecstatic encounter with the unexpected.” This project continues Rasheed’s practice of building accretive fields of annotation, indices, and footnotes through the architecture itself. Smooooooooooooooth Operator thus is an architecturally-scaled reader; a network of references pointing back to one another and elsewhere in this pursuit to map Rasheed’s inquiries. Within the exhibition, visitors can use their whole body as a reading vessel as they move through the space: body as computer mouse, body as planchette. 

This exhibition is made possible from a generous grant from the 2021 Presidential Interdisciplinary Seed Grant Program.

287 W Broad St
Athens, GA 30605, U.S.A 
University of Georgia
Lamar Dodd School of Art
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