DORTMUND, Germany – “Use smartphones and tarot cards to connect with spirits,” reads text on the wall, illuminated by soft ultraviolet light. “Make your own devices to listen to the invisible world.”
The spells, printed as wallpaper, are part of French artist Lucile Olympe Haute’s “Declaration of Cyberwitches,” an installation during a performance called “Technicalism” at the Hartware MedienKunstVerein. in Dortmund, Germany, through March 6, 2022. Group exhibition, which brings together the work of 12 artists and collectives, explores the connection between technology and esoteric ancestral belief systems .
In our always-online lives, the supernatural is having a high-tech moment. Spirituality is on all our feeds: Self-help guru Deepak Chopra co-founded his own NFT platform, witches are doing tarot readings on TikTok, and the AI-driven astrology app Co-Star has been downloaded more than 20 million times.
Dr. Jeffrey A. Tolbert, an assistant professor of trust and digital ethnography at Penn State Harrisburg has an explanation. “Due to the globalization potential of the Internet, people have access to religious traditions that were previously inaccessible to them,” he said. In the United States, more and more people identify as “spiritual” but not “religious,” he noted, adding that the internet allows those people to explore, select, and combine spiritual traditions that appeal to them the most..
The curator of “Technoshamanism,” Inke Arns, said during a recent tour of the show that contemporary artists also recognize the widespread presence of esoteric spirituality in the digital space. “I asked myself, ‘Why, in different parts of the world, is there such an uncanny interest in not only reactivating ancestral knowledge, but bringing this together with technology? “She said.
Often, for artists, the answer lies in environmental anxiety, says Arns. “People realize that we are in a very dire situation,” she added, “due to burning coal and fossil fuels. And it doesn’t stop. “Ancient belief systems that are more attuned to nature, combined with new technology, are providing a sense of hope for artists facing the climate crisis,” she said.
Fabiane Borges, a Brazilian researcher and member of a network called Tecnoxamanismo, said that while technological progress is often seen as harmful to the environment, indigenous artists, activists and hackers are trying to take back the technology for their own esoteric purposes. That group organizes meetings and festivals in which participants use devices including homemade robots to connect with ancestral belief systems and the natural world.
In Dortmund’s show, several works imagining a future of humanity beyond Earth shined with hope. Fifty prints by British artist Suzanne Treister from the series “Technology Systems: A New Cosmic Model for Survival” fill one wall of the museum, dreaming of psychic possibilities for survival in our humanity.
Treister’s neat, colorful works on paper feature flying saucers and stars placed in a kabbalah tree of life diagram, and blueprints for sci-fi systems and outer architecture Earth. As billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos see outer space as the next frontier for human expansion, Treister envisions an unlikely alternative: space exploration as a process within where rituals and visions play the same role as solar energy and artificial intelligence.
Many esoteric practices connect the community to a higher power, says Arns, which is why outer space is featured in so many contemporary artists’ spiritual explorations. “It creates a link between the microcosm and the macro-model, creating the ‘idea of a world that doesn’t just include Earth’,” she added.
Of course, technologists have devised a more digital way to enter the new world: virtual reality. Many VR founders are interested in psychedelic experiences, a common feature of shamanic rituals. (The recent boom in ayahuasca rituals, where participants drink a psychoactive beer, suggests the pull is still strong.) Researchers at the University of Sussex, in the UK, even even used VR to try to recreate the magic mushroom illusion.
During the show “Technicalism” in Dortmund, some of the works presented the audience with incredible images. Morehshin Allahyari’s VR creation “She Who Sees the Unknown” evokes an evil female djinn; At the artist’s request, the VR headset is placed in a dark space for the evil spirit to hover and threaten the viewer. Another work, experienced through augmented reality glasses, leads the viewer through a meditative ritual in a giant papier-mâché temple, weaving a spiraling light path with three images. video dimension.
Instead of inventing their own virtual spiritual sites, other artists try to uncover the lost meaning of some already existing places. Tabita Rezaire, for example, whose website describes her as “infinity transforming into a healing agent,” is showing a film that explores megalithic circles in the Gambia and Senegal. In a movie shown on a flat-screen TV set on the museum floor, Rezaire investigates the original purpose of ancient sites through documentary interviews with their local guardians, as well as with astronomers and archaeologists. Drawing on mathematical algorithms, astrology, and traditional African understanding of the universe, the interviews are incorporated into hypnotic CGI visualizations of outer space.
Technology and spirituality can also come together to preserve ancient cultural practices that might otherwise be lost, Borges said. She recounts that, at a 2016 festival organized by her network in Bahia, Brazil, teenagers with cell phones recorded a full moon ceremony performed by members of Pataxó, an indigenous community. implementation site. Borges said the footage, which showed the Pataxó people speaking their ancient language in ecstasy, was then passed on to local university researchers, who were working on expanding a dictionary.
Penn State’s Tolbert says the interplay between new tools and esoteric practices can be seen in all sorts of mystical practices. “Technology has always been part of spirituality,” he notes, citing psychic media hosting their own Facebook groups and ghost hunters using electromagnetic field detectors. “Most of them don’t see it as presenting any kind of conflict,” he added.
So perhaps, as the “Declaration of Cyberwitches” suggests, there is more in common than might be expected between hackers and witches, programmers and psychics. As Tolbert put it: “What is technology, if not the way for an individual to discover the answer?”