Lauren Lee McCarthy

Honorary Mention

Visitors are invited to act as a human version of Amazon Alexa. For this exhibition, four participants’ homes are installed with custom-designed smart devices, including cameras, microphones, switches, lights, and appliances. The gallery contains a command center that resembles a cross between call center and WeWork co-working space, featuring four computer stations. Visitors may hear smart home occupants call out for “Someone”—prompting the visitors to step in as their home automation assistant and respond to their needs. They can peek into the four homes via the laptops, watch over them, and remotely control the devices in their homes. This installation was originally a live remote intelligence portal into four homes across the United States that took place over a two-month duration.
We’re sold smart devices that outfit our homes with surveillance cameras, sensors, and automated control offering us convenience, at the cost of loss of privacy and control over our lives and homes. We’re meant to think these slick plastic pieces of technology are about utility, but the space they invade is personal. Home is the place where we are first socialized, first watched over, first cared for. What does it mean to have this role assumed by AI? Home is the first site of one’s cultural education. Now this is shaped by technology created by a small, homogenous group of developers.
By substituting humans for AI, the role of virtual assistant is re-contextualized. Inhabitants call out for “Someone,” invoking visitors as intelligence, complicating the dynamic between audience and performer. Installed simultaneously in multiple homes across the country, we’re challenged to consider the scale of the work, and the even more expansive, networked systems that structure society. SOMEONE is a meditation on the smart home, the tensions between intimacy vs privacy, convenience vs agency, and the role of human labor in the future of automation.



Artist: Lauren Lee McCarthy
Software and hardware development: Harvey Moon, Josh Billions
Interface software: Lauren Lee McCarthy
Furniture design collaboration and fabrication: Lela Barclay de Tolly
Smart home participant collaborators: Valeria Haedo, Adelle Lin, Amanda McDonald Crowley, Ksenya Samarskaya

Foto: Stan Narten, Lauren Lee McCarthy

Lauren Lee McCarthy (US) is an LA-based artist examining social relationships in the midst of surveillance, automation, and algorithmic living. She is the creator of p5.js, and Co-Director of the Processing Foundation. Lauren’s work has been exhibited at The Barbican Centre, Ars Electronica, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Haus der elektronischen Künste, SIGGRAPH, Onassis Cultural Center, IDFA DocLab, and the Seoul Museum of Art. She’s the recipient of a Creative Capital Award, Sundance Fellowship, Eyebeam Residency, and grants from the Knight Foundation, Mozilla Foundation, Google, and Rhizome.

Jury Statement

SOMEONE is a distributed installation and exhibition where visitors are invited to act as a human version of the Amazon smart speaker Alexa. The homes of four people have been augmented with bespoke smart devices. Through a command center with four computers, visitors can hear the occupants of the “smart homes” call out for “Someone,” prompting them to step in as their home automation assistant and respond to their needs.

The exhibition addresses timely topics that have emerged in the intersection of smart technologies and everyday life, in particular surveillance and control. The piece questions whether these technologies give us convenience and improved quality of life or actually threaten our autonomy, agency, and privacy. Furthermore, by having the visitor act as a smart device themselves, the exhibition questions labor relations that exist behind the scenes of our apparently seamless connected world. These are pressing questions in a time when our most intimate spaces and routines are becoming increasingly embedded with “smart” devices that collect and share sensitive data about ourselves and our individual and social behaviors.

View full Jury Statement here.