ZEN A.I. is a durational endurance performance in which a meditative practice is monitored, constructed, and manipulated by A.I. (artificial intelligence) algorithms. A performer follows an A.I. algorithm’s guided meditation, which generates a stream of “conscious” instructions trained to simulate the common pattern of consumer ‘mindfulness’ practices. However, this algorithm generates sentences that can be considered humorous, troubling, and often offensive. Simultaneously, another A.I. surveillance algorithm which is trained to detect a variety of bodies and objects constantly analyses the environment of the performer in their meditation room.
The meditation space includes several laptops and cellular devices which are connected to the internet and display footage of burning candles. These devices emit sounds of email notifications, text messages, or other ringing tones which usually distract and demand our attention. The performer’s goal is to sit motionlessly and continue the meditative practice despite the alien environment.
For many, the goal of meditation is to calm the senses, to train attention and awareness. ZEN A.I. examines the role of new technologies as foreign tools becoming intertwined with traditional practices. The performer, being fully aware and in control of their environment, gives consent to the algorithms and allows them to continuously survey their presence. This is in contrast to our current hyper-connected environment in which an asymmetrical, nonconsensual algorithmic gaze exposes our society to discriminatory practices. Although at times comical, Zen A.I. is a representation of the necessity to evolve human consciousness toward recognizing the technosphere as a natural phenomenon not dissimilar to thoughts, or gravity. With this recognition, we begin to regain our agency. Acknowledging algorithms as such gives the conscious observer autonomy over the regulation of their impact.