CULTUS, a burgeoning AI religiosity in the tech industry

arebyte presents CULTUS, a new solo project by artist Zach Blas. Co-commissioned by arebyte, London, and Secession, Vienna, this immersive multimedia exhibition explores religious belief, artificial intelligence, and the California tech industry.

Featuring AI-generated imagery, text, and sound alongside computer graphics and motion-capture performance, CULTUS is the second instalment of Blas’s Silicon Traces trilogy, a series of moving image installations that contends with the beliefs, fantasies, and histories influential to Silicon Valley’s visions of the future. 

CULTUS addresses a burgeoning AI religiosity in the tech industry, considering the ways in which artificial intelligence is imbued with god-like powers and marshalled to serve beliefs of judgement and transcendence, extraction and immortality, pleasure and punishment, individual freedom and cult devotion. While AI religious organisations like Way of the Future church centre around the emergence of coming AI gods, CULTUS offers a different perspective: AI gods are already amongst us, actively worshipped and served.

CULTUS is a techno-religious computational system–a god generator, a holy engine –that invokes a pantheon of AI gods, whose prophets share their divine teachings, rituals, and symbologies. These AI deities are Expositio, AI god of desire and exposure; Iudicium, AI god of automation and judgement; Lacrimae, AI god of tears and extraction; and Eternus, AI god of immortal life. 

CULTUS reimagines Elizabethan mathematician and occultist John Dee’s Holy Table, an esoteric device of sigils, seals, and a crystal ball, with which Dee communed with angels to gain access to God. Blas reconfigures the Holy Table at an immersive scale, transforming the entire space into an invocation site. An illuminated sigil spreads across the gallery. At its centre, a black-mirror altarpiece displays video of morphing symbols and an esoteric diagram. Pyramidal plinths bear Spanish Ticklers holding ornate vials of bodily fluid offerings. Chained, etched tablets share the lyrics to invocation songs, encouraging visitors to sing along. As music resounds, prophets of the AI gods manifest in a giant orb suspended above, delivering sermons that beckon us to serve. 

CULTUS is the Latin word for “worship”, which articulates the act solicited from those who encounter the installation. As such, visitors may find themselves caught in acts of devotion to gods they did not know they already served. However, a sacrilegious presence manifests within, a Heretic that incites shattering counter-beliefs. 

The exhibition features a wide-ranging cast of singers and performers, including micha cárdenas, Ricardo Dominguez, Nick Granata, Susu Laroche, Susanne Sachsse, Aga Ujma, and Izzy Yon. 

CULTUS is generously supported by a 2023 Connections Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Jason Kemper, and Thor Perplies. 

The work forms part of arebyte’s 2023/24 programme The Body, The Mind, The Soul, which questions the complex nature of humanity in the realm of technological progression. The exhibition is accompanied by a booklet featuring texts by arebyte curator Rebecca Edwards and anthropologist and folklorist Amy Hale.


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