Investigating AI as ritual through an experiential installation

Kevin Walker, Anna Drupka

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


We demonstrate how artistic practice can contribute to understanding nonlinguistic aspects of artificial intelligence (AI) as a cultural actor, through the creation of a multisensory installation informed by ethnographic research. Focusing specifically on rituals and spirituality, we invert the common trajectory wherein anthropologists (for example Turner 2001) investigate rituals and shared experiences created through artistic production, then publish their findings as academic texts; we instead draw on rituals and symbolism from multiple cultural traditions to create an embodied experience of ineffable aspects of AI using tactile materials and spatial audio in an immersive space.

This artistic form of ethnography (or conversely ethnographic art) sits alongside approaches such as sensory ethnography (Pink 2009) and alien ethnography (Lenskjold and Jönsson 2017), and aligns with the experiential research cycle of Kolb (1984), encompassing phases of concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation, and active experimentation. We see parallels between artistic and ethnographic research – for example, both require the researcher to be both insider and outsider. According to O’Donoghue (2014), this means resisting the imperative to record immediately or force an interpretation from a distance; instead it means immersing oneself directly in the research experience.

Individually we have created ethnographically-informed artworks, for example Ritual (2014) by Walker, The Water Ritual (2017) by Drupka, and Daily Rituals (2022) by Walker. We have collaborated to create a multisensory space devoted to ritualistic and spiritual aspects of AI, avoiding AI’s reliance on language and measurement, and common contemporary practice of using AI to create words or images.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusSubmitted - 2023
Event2023 ASA conference: An Unwell World? Anthropology in a Speculative Mode - University of London, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Apr 202314 Apr 2023


Conference2023 ASA conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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