irl: computer p$yentology

rachel simone weils, _tender mystic hotline_ | photo courtesy jt hernandez

at computer p$yentology, an exhibition organized by irl at the museum of human achievement for the 2018 fusebox festival, you are greeted, “hello! welcome to the first station!” an attendant with robocop-like sunglasses pencils in each visitor’s time with the remaining five stations, the duration of occupancy for each being four minutes.

computer p$yentology is a “6-step audit system” that explores technology and the sublime in an attempt to “free the modern technoself from the current limits of consciousness,” according to the exhibition description.

irl is an “artist-led incubator for creative experimentation with new technologies” and says its mission is to “empower a more diverse population of artists to use digital technology in their work, to create a dedicated space for public engagement with cutting-edge digital artworks, and to encourage artists to repurpose emerging and ubiquitous digital technologies in creative and unexpected ways.”

irl, _computer p$yentology _| photo courtesy rachel wilkins, irl

irl, computer p$yentology | photo courtesy rachel wilkins, irl riffing on scientology’s claims that its founder, l. ron hubbard, “developed an actual technology that enables you to use his discoveries to improve yourself and others” and its use of auditing, a process it claims “provides a precise path by which any individual may walk an exact route to higher states of spiritual awareness,” irl describes computer p$yentology‘s audit system thusly: “each step will weed out potential trouble sources on the path to becoming an optimal virtual being and developing a healthy relationship with the impending singularity.”

the content of the exhibition, washed in blue fluorescent light, is simultaneously tongue-in-check and sincere. the individual installations are both unique in their content and meant to be experienced in relation to one another.

at the first station, sean o’neill’s how to make work easier presents a cross-section of p$yentology–related ephemera: pamphlets, books, bags, and take-aways from the scientology center arranged in a bookstore-like display. while i perused this station, i chatted with the attendant about my pinnacle memory of scientology-related media—tom cruise jumping on oprah’s couch—and mused about hubbard.

with vidkidz’s rise and shine, the viewer sits facing old mac computers that flash black and white lo-res graphics of the sun with clouds peeking out, the installation reminding viewers to wake up and continue on with their days.

vidkidz, _rise and shine_ | photo courtesy rachel wilkins, irl

devvyn rhodes’ drowning in spaces is a video installation projected in a bathroom’s shower, where renderings of water—from bubbles to ocean—engulf the viewer. standing in the shower, a feeling of wetness envelops the viewer, over time generating a flooding of the senses.

in rachel simone weil’s tender mystic hotline, miss cleo and her late-night “psychic” infomercials stream across a screen, paired with music that is both calm and droning. the viewer is encouraged to take a “call,” or pick up the phone and have an intimate connection with the music; rather than participating in a verbal reading over the phone, the viewer experiences a sensory tuning to a calming frequency they can lose themselves in.

lastly, flatsitter‘s (with noah falck’s accompanying poetry) server, the viewer enters the room and reads a sign that says, “focus on your breathing.” it is a reminder to stay calm and centered in this station. the viewer puts on a virtual reality headset and begins a journey through the center of a flower, through many color fields, oscillating halls, and vortexes. in the meditative process, the viewer is taken through multiple fields of vision and light, beginning and ending at the center of a flower, a fitting close to the experience of computer p$yentology, an exhibition highlighting how the body reaches the sublime at the center of a breath.

when the sublime is networked, it breeds a techno-utopian fantasy. instead of sliding easily into such tropes, computer p$yentology visualizes, as author nicole starosielski quotes the spouse of a server attendant, “codes that no one can speak.”

published in conflict of interest