The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are a crew of street performers who use drag and religious imagery to call attention to LGBT community issues. They started off in San Francisco’s Castro district, and mecfirst showed up at Burning Man in 1996:
Sisters attended, for the first time, the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert and served Oh! Communion with medicinal brownies and tequila to parched and needy pagans. They also performed and passed out safer sex materials and set up a prayer shrine
Their latest project is a Mechanical Nun, that can hear your confessions. It is modelled on Douglas Adam’s Electric Monk.
Follow the Nun as the robot — an Android tablet atop a wheeled pole, draped in a nun’s habit — guides the professed sinner to a confession booth. Inside, they’re prompted to select-a-sin from a dozen big categories: lust? envy? violence?
Then, some sub-sins: for example, adulterous desire is listed under lust and envy. Then, sinners are encouraged to tell the Nun the story of their sin.
Their sin category and location are pinpricked onto a “Sin City” map, showing sinners exactly how and why they’re not alone — a human consolation brought about by a distinctly inhuman method.
The Nun sprung into the brain of creator Oren Schaedel several months ago on a hike at Mount Tamalpais when he and Sister of Perpetual Indulgence Baba Ganesh began discussing that year’s Project Nunway, a fashion event thrown by the Sisters at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Nov. 2.
“He was saying that YBCA and the Sisters wanted to switch up the art, make it a little more futuristic to fall in line with the exhibition theme, ‘Dissident Futures,’ — something like all of the art-meets-tech- scene that’s been emerging from Burning Man in the past few years,” Schaedel said. “The first thing that came to mind was the Electric Monk.”
The Electric Monk, a character from Douglas Adams’ novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, “believes in something because humans don’t have time for that and created a robot do to all the believing for them,” Schaedel said.
The Sisters, a presence in San Francisco for decades, hear strangers’ confessions all the time, Schaedel said.
“They were listening to people opening up their hearts, telling them what was on their minds, and saying how good they felt after that,” he said. The Sisters wanted to be able to bring that feeling wherever a robot could go.
For that event, she’ll be guided manually by remote control and will nudge users into a confession booth, since the event could be a bit noisy and crowded. Eventually, the creators hope she’ll be able to roam around using an infrared sensor to find people, listen to sins and categorize them automatically.
She’ll be inducted into the sisterhood herself soon, Schaedel said, and be given a yet-to-be-determined name. And, with any luck, she’ll make an appearance at Burning Man 2014, fully functional. The “Sin City” map will be shown to the crowd at Project Nunway and will eventually be put online, with its data available on Github.
Schaedel and the other volunteers are collecting funds to make the Nun through an Indiegogo campaign. They have enough funds to make the Nun work, but any extra help will make them add features and “make it look awesome,” Schaedel. And campaign donors who give $50 have the option of having their voice recorded as the Nun’s speaking voice.
Find more information on Project Nunway here.
Tech nerds, sci fi geeks, queerdos, art lovers are encouraged to contribute to this project. If you can’t afford to donate to their Indiegogo campaign, you can write code and connect to their API thanks to Raspberry Pi and JSON. The Mechanical Nun will be debuting at Burning Man in 2014.
Schaedel was part of the “League of Extraordinary Nerds” at LA’s Syyn Labs that made this must-see Rube Goldberg machine music video for OK Go in 2010: