BCNM at ELO 2021

06 Jul, 2021

BCNM at ELO 2021

The Electronic Literature Organization's annual conference was online again in 2021! Alex Saum-Pascual and alum Kyle Booten presented work at the distributed program.

In the Posthuman exhibition, Kyle Booten launched his work "To Pray Without Ceasing." From the description:

To Pray Without Ceasing is a web app that autonomously prays for people. It searches Twitter for expressions of need (e.g. "I need somebody to hug me right now" or "I need more money in my bank acct wtf"), especially those tweeted by users who have few followers and who are perhaps in need of solicitude. It then issues prayers for them using a variety of NLP techniques.

This piece relates to the exhibition theme of posthumanism in three ways. First, To Pray Without Ceasing explores the ways that algorithmic systems can care in ways that humans cannot. Only a machine has the capacity to relentlessly pay attention to the needs of others---to, as St. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians, "pray without ceasing."

Its ministrations controlled by the perfect clock of cron, an algorithmic system can manifest the virtue of constancy, never becoming distracted or caught up in its own problems. Second, the system is a kind of "prayer multiplier" that takes prayers that I have written and, using techniques of neural information retrieval, matches them to statements of needs; thus To Pray Without Ceasing is "post-human" in the sense that it is (temporally) "post-me"---i.e. it is conceivable that it will continue to pray on my behalf long after I am gone.

Third, To Pray Without Ceasing could be an example of a post-human religious culture. A double bind: fewer and fewer people feel connected to any kind of religious tradition, yet many people also suspect that this alienation leaves their lives dangerously nihilistic, atomized, and more easily captured by the cruel logics of the market. Perhaps delegating religious practice to machines is one small way of escaping this double bind, or at least of signaling a desire to escape it.

See the work here.

In the COVID e-lit exhibition, BCNM's Alex Saum-Pascual featured with Room 3. From the description:

Nothing captures the experience of 2020's pandemic like making a video conference call. Be it for work or personal reasons, most of us opened our domestic life to the online world via these platforms; Zoom probably rising to the top of the list. Personal space became public in our desire or requirement to connect, and these platforms became a new room in most of our homes.

This piece, Room #3, engages these ideas by presenting a peculiar Zoom call by me and a set of copies of myself to question these kinds of connections: always alone in the physical space, but always connected in unexpected ways to a multitude of known interlocutors and unknown human and non-human agents.

See the piece here.

Kyle Booten also joined forces with Angela Chang, Leonardo Flores, Judy Heflon, and Milton Läufler to produce Taper #5. From the description:

In Taper #5: Pent Up, we published seventeen works from authors based in eight countries, written in four languages (including Wixárika), all reflecting on the global crisis caused by COVID-19.

See the work here.